Alimony Laws in West Virginia

By Cindy Chung

After a separation or divorce, spouses often hope to move on and rebuild their lives independently. However, former spouses may continue to affect each other's lives if one of them must provide financial support to the other on a temporary or permanent basis. In West Virginia, a spouse may request alimony, also known as spousal support; state law uses the terms interchangeably. Whether the spouse is entitled to alimony depends on many factors.

Getting a Court Order for Alimony

The West Virginia courts generally issue an alimony order as part of a divorce or legal separation. If the couple agrees that one spouse will receive alimony, they may include their arrangement in a written property settlement agreement signed by both parties. The agreement may also include the couple's terms regarding property division, parenting and other major issues in a divorce. If the court approves the settlement, alimony and other agreed-upon terms become a court order when the judge finalizes the case. If the spouses continue to disagree regarding alimony and can't reach a settlement, the court will likely need to make a decision. West Virginia spousal support laws allow the court to consider factors such as the family's financial circumstances, each spouse's contributions to the household and each spouse's income and resources before granting or denying an alimony award.

Types of Alimony in West Virginia

If the court decides to order alimony for one spouse, the court must also choose the type of alimony that would be appropriate considering the circumstances. The court may order temporary support for a limited period of time. If one spouse needs time to prepare for employment, the court might choose rehabilitative alimony allowing that spouse to enroll in school or participate in employment training. The court may also choose to order permanent alimony, which may continue indefinitely until the death of either party or the marriage of the party receiving alimony. Although the existing court order sets the type of alimony to be paid, either spouse may request a modification to change or eliminate spousal support; this process likely requires a return to court.

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Consequences of Adultery

West Virginia spousal support laws allow the court to consider each spouse's misconduct when deciding whether to award alimony. The court can look at each spouse's role in causing the circumstances which led to the end of the marital relationship. However, the current law does not specifically mention adultery as a consideration in spousal support disputes. In early 2012, the West Virginia Legislature was considering a senate bill to change the state's spousal support laws. If enacted into state law, the bill would allow the possibility of an alimony modification or denial if a spouse could prove the other party engaged in adultery that led to the birth of a child. However, the law would also require consideration of additional factors such as the length of time that had passed and the potential harm to the child.

Unpaid Alimony

West Virginia alimony laws include legal consequences for people who fail to pay their support obligations. In particular, state law allows contempt proceedings brought against a former spouse who doesn't pay. The contempt case may occur in criminal court as a criminal matter or in family court as a civil matter. As part of the contempt proceedings, the court often issues a judgment stating the arrearages — total past-due amount — owed to the party receiving alimony. If the court agrees to place the party in contempt of court, the consequences may include up to six months in county jail unless the party "purges" the obligation by paying the full amount owed. West Virginia laws do include an exception from contempt for parties who genuinely lack the financial resources to pay their court-ordered obligations.

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