The availability of spousal support stems from the legal duty of one spouse to the other by virtue of their marital relationship. Virginia courts consider many factors when determining an award of spousal support. Following a divorce, the “trial court has broad discretion in setting spousal support.” Brooks v. Brooks, 27 Va. App. 314, 317 (1998). However, section 20-107.1(E) of the Code of Virginia outlines thirteen factors that judges must weigh when awarding spousal support. In the recent case Thomas A. Carr v. Maribeth C. Carr, the Court of Appeals of Virginia highlighted several of these factors as the primary criteria in setting spousal support.
Circumstances of the dissolution of marriage – Courts begin their spousal support assessments by looking at the circumstances which contributed to the dissolution of marriage. These may include adultery, desertion of the marriage, or any other special circumstances or grounds for the divorce.
Financial needs and resources of the parties – Courts also rely heavily on the financial statuses of the parties, including both the financial needs of the requesting party and the other spouse’s willingness and ability to pay. Carr v. Carr, No. 0607-22-2, 2023 WL 2873410, at *7 (Va. Ct. App. Apr. 11, 2023). In Carr, the court used the parties’ average and current salaries to determine their financial needs and resources. However, courts may also impute income for a party depending on that party’s education, employment, or investment potential. Carr, 2023 WL 2873410, at *7. The party requesting the imputed income must provide sufficient evidence projecting the amount of anticipated income for the other party. Carr, 2023 WL 2873410, at *7. This burden of proof makes it challenging, even with financial expert witnesses, to definitively project the amount of income a party could potentially earn.
The standard of living during the marriage – Virginia courts also analyze the standard of living established during the marriage. In Carr, the court described the marital standard of living as an “affluent lifestyle” because during the marriage the parties indulged in country club memberships, vacation homes, private schooling for their children, and multiple vacations per year. Carr, 2023 WL 2873410, at *7
The recent decision in Carr underscores the holistic approach Virginia courts take when determining spousal support. Trial courts, as the trier of fact, have broad discretion in balancing the weight of the thirteen factors listed in section 20-107.1(E). These factors do not serve as an algorithm to predict spousal support awards with certainty. Carr, 2023 WL 2873410, at *11. Rather, the court in Carr used its own balancing to weigh the circumstances of the divorce, the parties’ financial needs and resources, and the parties’ standard of living during the marriage.
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