Divorce and Modification of Support Law in the State of Virginia

by Heather Frances Google

A Virginia court can award spousal support as part of your divorce decree if the court determines support is appropriate in your case. Later, the courts have authority to modify your support order if there is a substantial change in your circumstances, but if you have a settlement agreement between you and your ex-spouse, the court cannot modify support unless the agreement states that spousal support is subject to the court’s revision.

Factors

Virginia courts do not use a set formula to set spousal support amounts. Before awarding spousal support, a court must consider the reasons for the divorce along with several factors, including the needs and resources of each spouse, the standard of living the spouses established during their marriage, the length of the marriage and the contributions each spouse made to the marriage and to the other spouse's education, training or career. However, Virginia law does not allow the court to grant spousal support to a spouse who committed adultery during the marriage, unless it would "constitute a manifest injustice."

Types of Support

Virginia courts can award support as periodic payments for a set length of time, as periodic payments with no time limit or as a lump sum. For example, the court could award $400 per month for 36 months. Alternatively, the court could award $400 per month permanently, and this type of award would not terminate until the recipient spouse died or remarried. A lump sum could be appropriate when special circumstances dictate that periodic payments are inappropriate, but the court will not modify a lump sum support award after it has been ordered.

Modification

If your spousal support was set in a settlement agreement between you and your ex-spouse, rather than set by a judge, your support can only be modified if your settlement agreement specifically allows it. If a judge set your support, he can modify it if you can prove your circumstances have changed substantially. Also, if the recipient spouse has cohabited in a manner resembling marriage for at least a year, the court can terminate the support order.

Modification Process

To modify your support order, you must file a petition with the appropriate court, typically the one that granted your original support award, and serve a copy of the petition on your ex-spouse who then has an opportunity to respond. The judge may set a hearing to receive evidence from both sides before issuing a decision. Virginia law and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act do not authorize the court to transfer jurisdiction of support cases to another state, which may make modifications inconvenient if the spouses have moved away from Virginia.