In Virginia, your marriage is officially terminated once a judge signs a final order of divorce or the divorce decree. For a majority of couples, this does not mean a severing of all ties with your now ex-spouse. For example, if you and your ex-spouse have children together, you will have to deal with matters of child support and visitation, until your children reach the age of eighteen.
Furthermore, spousal support or alimony, may link you and your ex together for the remainder of your natural lives, or until the spouse receiving support remarries.
Alimony is typically awarded to a spouse that is financially dependent throughout the marriage, in a Virginia divorce. If your divorce is contentious, then a judge may determine the amount and duration of support. If not, then you and your former spouse may agree to a certain amount, in a marital settlement agreement that is incorporated into your final divorce decree. The amount and duration of your alimony award will be based on your financial circumstances, as well as those of your ex, at the time of your divorce. These circumstances may change in the future which is why alimony can be modified.
You may be able to modify the amount of alimony you receive, if you can show a legally valid reason constituting a substantial change in circumstances that may entitle you to more or less money. But, if you receive alimony pursuant to a marital settlement agreement, you can only modify your support payment(s) if your agreement states that modification is permitted in the future.
Modifying Alimony Payments That Have No Set Duration
If your alimony award does not have a set duration, then Section 20-109 of the Virginia Code defines how this award can be modified. According to Section 20-109, a judge can increase, decrease and even terminate your payments as “the circumstances deem proper.” This means that the court has complete discretion in modifying your alimony payments.
Alimony awards with an indefinite duration are typically reserved for marriages that lasted for an extended period of time – usually 15-20 years. The rationale behind this is that you and your ex-spouse spent many years making decisions together and sharing responsibility for financial obligations, that the court cannot decide just how long alimony payments should last. Unfortunately, this typically results in a situation where your ex-spouse believes that he or she is paying you too much, and you probably feel that you aren’t receiving enough. This can lead to both you and your spouse filing motions for modification of support year in and year out.
To make matters worse, there is a lack of articulable standards as to what constitutes “proper circumstances” justifying a modification of support and what the modified amount or duration should be. This means that your motion for modification may be denied one year and approved the next.
However, there is a good solution to this problem if you and your spouse can agree to your alimony award in a marital settlement or separation agreement. When drafting the terms of your agreement, you can include language that defines how and/or under what circumstances support payments can be modified. This way, if you or your ex-spouse moves to modify the alimony award in the future, the court must abide by what you agreed to in your marital settlement or separation agreement. The future is uncertain; you must be careful when defining the events or circumstances that will justify a modification. This is just one of the reasons why it is so important to hire a knowledgeable family law attorney, when drafting your agreement.
If you are considering a modification of your alimony award, or need help drafting a solid separation agreement, you should consult with a qualified family law attorney like those at the DiPietro Family Law Group. The family lawyers of the DiPietro Family Law Group have decades of experience handling all types of support modification and other family law issues in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. Contact us today for a consultation at (888) 530-4374.