Can a Virginia Spousal Support Award be Modified?
Once your final divorce decree is signed, you might assume that you won’t have any further ties with your ex. However, even in the absence of having children together, an award of spousal support can bind spouses together long after the divorce is finalized. And, as time passes, circumstances can change that may lead to one party wanting to go back and have the spousal support award modified.
Typically, the person who wants to modify the award is the spouse that was ordered to pay alimony. A material change in circumstances, like the loss of their job or a major illness, is the reason that the modification is being requested.
Earlier in 2018, a new Virginia law took effect that actually makes it easier for a party to get a spousal support award modified.
Alimony Awards that are Silent on Modification
Prior to the new law, in a divorce decree or separation agreement that had no specific wording regarding modification, the award was permanent and was not eligible for modification. Unfortunately, many couples had signed alimony agreements assuming that it could be modified at a later point in time only to discover that it couldn’t since the agreement did not address the subject directly.
Now, if a couple signs a divorce settlement agreement, Virginia law requires there be specific language included if the spousal support cannot be modified at any point in time. This means that if there is no language included about whether or not it can be modified, the court will now assume it can be modified. This change applies to all agreements that are signed after July 1, 2018.
Modifying Alimony Due to Retirement
The new law also allows courts to consider retirement as a qualifying material change to modify an alimony award. The court is required to look at a variety of factors, including how retirement affects both parties’ incomes, the health and age of both parties, and what assets and property each has.
Modifying Alimony with No End Date versus Defined Duration
When modifying alimony in cases with a defined duration, the overall length of support cannot be extended. The court can opt to decrease, increase, or terminate alimony. One side needs to prove a material change in circumstances happened that neither party anticipated when alimony was first awarded, or an event that the court anticipated would happen did not end up occurring, which was due to no fault of either person.
Modifying spousal support awards that are permanent can be more complex. The statute says the court has authority to decrease, increase, or terminate alimony if the “circumstances make it proper.” This means there is no requirement for a specific event to happen before you can request a modification. This may sound more desirable, but it means the judge has more discretion, which may or may not work in your favor.
Retaining a Virginia Family Law Attorney
If you have questions about spousal support award modifications, it’s important to speak with a knowledgeable Virginia family law attorney. There are changes in the federal tax laws for 2019 regarding alimony that could potentially have negative side effects for both parties. Contact our team of experts at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation.