Spousal support is a determination that is left to the broad discretion of the court. The court is required to examine a number of specific factors set out in the Virginia statute. However, there is not a specific formula for spousal support as there is for child support. Therefore, the role of a spousal support lawyer in Virginia with a good deal of experience is to make predictions about the range of possibilities in a spousal support case.
Additionally, because of the fact that there are tax implications, it is important to have an attorney who knows where those pitfalls may lie or who can refer the client to somebody who can explain those details. Because of tax implications, there is a lot more to spousal support than meets the eye.
Requirement of Representation
At any point in time, the court is accessible to parties whether or not they are represented by counsel. Any person seeking spousal support could go to the courthouse on their own and file. However, it would never be the recommendation of an attorney that a party do that, because spousal support is a complex area of the law.
The primary role of a lawyer is to make the claim as easy as possible on behalf of their client, so an individual should not hesitate before consulting with an attorney.
Role as a Mediator
One major role of a lawyer is to serve as a mediator in any case if both parties come to that attorney requesting mediation. In that circumstance, the attorney does not have a duty of confidentiality to either party. The attorney would not be representing one spouse or the other. The lawyer would serve as a neutral third party in helping the two negotiate parameters and terms that each can live with.
It is not uncommon for parties to try to mediate spousal support for a couple of reasons. Number one, there really are no hard and fast rules. Because there is so much of a gray area, it is common for parties to want to mediate. Otherwise, they are taking a big risk by going into the court where the range of possibilities is so broad.
On top of that, a spousal support dispute can often be difficult for both sides, because it is typically a scenario where the same amount of money coming in is now supporting two households.
Both parties are likely to end up in a situation where they are short of money. It is not easy for parties to come to agreements without help when they are both looking at their bottom line and saying, “How am I going to pay my bills?” Due to these complications, it is important for an individual to let their attorney’s role as a mediator carry them through their case.
Role as an Advisor
If one party needs a bit more financial support and the parties are working together, it is certainly possible to negotiate a disproportionate division of the assets in lieu of alimony. For example, if there is an investment account that tends to throw off a good amount of income, then perhaps the prospective alimony payor does not want to be on the hook for a monthly payment.
It is the role of a lawyer in a Virginia spousal support case to properly advise the individuals on the best options for their future. Instead, they might want to offer the financially-disadvantaged spouse that kind of an asset with the idea that not only would the person be able to keep the purpose of the asset in place, but the asset could generate income for the person needing a little bit of additional money every month.
It is important for people considering alimony situations to know that adultery can, in most cases, be an absolute bar to spousal support. In other words, if the person looking for spousal support has committed adultery and that adultery had caused the disintegration of the marriage, the law in Virginia says that the person who committed adultery shall be barred from receiving alimony. Thus, if the person looking for support has engaged in an extramarital relationship, that person does not want the prospective payor of alimony to know that.
Points of Note
The number one piece of advice that an attorney would give their client would be to explore alternative means for resolving the divorce case other than litigation, because litigation is extremely costly and almost always results in an outcome that is not as good as one that two cooperative parties could craft themselves.
Second, a lawyer would advise parties in that situation to look at the financial determinations from a logical standpoint rather than an emotional standpoint.
Third, it is incredibly important for two parties who are getting ready to or going through the process of becoming divorced to make sure that they are well-informed and keeping up-to-date in terms of what their monthly expenses and financial needs are. Dividing a household into two while oftentimes using the same financial resources to support two households is a very difficult thing to do, and staying on top of the monthly income and expenses is a really useful way to facilitate division of assets and determinations of whether and what kind of alimony should be paid.
The role of an experienced spousal support lawyer in Virginia is to inform their client of these elements and help them navigate their case successfully.