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When we think of alimony, we often think of a stay-at-home mom who has given up her career and needs support from her husband after a divorce. In the 21st Century, alimony can look a lot like that scenario–or nothing like that scenario. But it still involves the higher-earning spouse supporting the lower-earning spouse for a set duration. In Virginia, there’s no set rule for determining alimony payments, and many factors come into play.

how does alimony work


Alimony is a layperson’s term for spousal support: court-ordered support for a spouse or ex-spouse during a separation or after a divorce. The word alimony comes from the Latin word nourish and is often used in popular culture. Courts generally use the terms support or maintenance instead. The idea behind alimony payments is that the higher-income spouse should support their ex to allow them to maintain their standard of living. When one spouse has a higher income, it’s often because the other spouse has made career sacrifices to support the marriage and family. So the court considers this background when determining the amount and duration of payments.


In Virginia, the goal is to allow the lower-income spouse to maintain a similar standard of living as in their marriage. Some of the circumstances that lead to alimony awards include:

  • If the lower-income spouse lacks sufficient property to maintain their standard of living.
  • If the spouse cannot support themselves through employment with a similar standard of living.
  • If caregiving requirements make holding a job challenging (for example, if a child has physical or intellectual disabilities or special needs that would make it challenging for the caregiving spouse to return to work).
  • If the spouse has disabilities that prevent them from working or limit their ability to work.


Some of the factors Virginia courts take into account include:

  • Each partner’s financial resources and ability to support themselves without their spouse.
  • The time it will take for the lower-income spouse to get the education and training they need and seek appropriate employment.
  • How long the marriage lasted and whether one spouse stayed home with children. Did one spouse make career decisions for family reasons that affected their current and future earning potential?
  • How long did that spouse stay home for family reasons?
  • The contributions of each partner to the marriage and property owned jointly or separately. In Virginia, courts also consider pensions and retirement accounts.

how is alimony determined

Virginia does not take custodial status into account. Child support is determined separately.


The duration of spousal support payments in Virginia is usually based on the length of the marriage. The general rule is one year of alimony for every two years of marriage. However, judges have discretion over the duration and amount awarded, so there is no hard-and-fast rule. If you are the spouse receiving support and remarrying, your ex may ask the court to terminate alimony payments.


In Virginia, there’s no set formula for alimony payments. While guidelines exist, it’s up to the judge to decide. That’s why having a skilled family law attorney is crucial, whether you’re the supporting spouse or requesting alimony.
If you are the spouse paying support, some considerations include:

  • Offering your spouse a larger share of property (for example, the family home) in exchange for smaller support payments.
  • Spouses can pay alimony in a lump sum under Virginia law. In some cases, a lump sum payment can reduce overall costs.
  • You can request termination or reduction if your spouse remarries.
  • If you are the spouse requesting support, you and your attorney can
  • Illustrate how your income and earning potential have been impacted by your choice to care for your family.
  • Show how you have supported your spouse, including helping them pursue advanced degrees and professional development.
  • Present challenges to maintaining your lifestyle, including education and employment history.

Whether you are the spouse seeking support or the spouse paying alimony, having a skilled family law attorney is essential. Your lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of divorce and finances, delving into property, retirement accounts, investments and inheritances. If you are seeking support, you want to ensure you get what you’re entitled to after sacrificing your career during your marriage. If you’re the supporting spouse, you want to ensure payments accurately reflect your ex’s needs and marital history. Either way, it’s essential to have an advocate who can wade through your financial situation to achieve insight and clarity.

The Marquis Law Group’s outstanding family law attorneys represent clients on both sides of alimony disputes. Using expert testimony and extensive professional experience, our team can analyze your financial situation and argue for a fair and favorable outcome.


Marquis Law Group combines our deep knowledge of the law with a passion for helping our neighbors.

Need Guidance?

While this website provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call 703-777-6161 or complete our intake form.


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