How Your Alimony Payments Are Determined

Alimony is also referred to as spousal support. Despite many common misconceptions, alimony is not a form of punishment, nor is it gender-specific. Either person, male or female, can pay alimony to their former spouse. 

The purpose of these payments is to prevent one person from enduring an unjust financial hardship. For most marriages, it is rare for both people to make the same amount of money. One either makes more or all of the income, usually the result of differing educational backgrounds or one of the parties having left the workforce by agreement to assume primary child care responsibilities.

When the marriage dissolves, one might be facing extreme financial difficulties—especially if they have been out of work for an extended period. In contrast, while the amount of child support is determined by a formula, alimony centers around several factors. The court hears and weighs in on the circumstances of your marriage and how it ended. Because alimony is not a right, many things will play into how and if alimony is awarded. 


The first issue that should be discussed is fault, such as desertion or adultery.. Many people are told—or they assume—that they forfeit their right to alimony if they are proven to be at fault for the dissolution of the marriage. When alimony is being determined, fault is a factor—and it can be a significant factor. But it is a mistake to think it is the only factor. Please refer to Virginia Code Section 20-107.1 for a comprehensive listing of the elements that a judge considers before declaring how alimony should or should not be paid. 

It is essential to note that the court doesn’t have to decide this for you. In order to maintain some control over what can become a very subjective process, you and your spouse (and your attorneys) can work out alimony in your separation agreement. If a conclusion cannot be agreed upon, then a Judge will do so for you. 

The Factors

The Judge is going to look at the life of the marriage in its entirety. Other things that will be considered include:

  • The state of the family’s finances (income, retirement accounts, savings, property);
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage, the age, physical and mental condition of the parties;  
  • Each person’s ability to earn income in the future;
  • Who will have primary custody of the children, and if that prohibits someone from being able to work;
  • How much one spouse supported the other—i.e., did one person manage the home so the other could obtain a degree or work?;
  • Fault on the part of either party.


Another common misconception is that alimony is paid out for life. Although it can be, it is not the only option. There are several ways in which alimony can be paid, including a lump sum. Ultimately, what matters is that your specific circumstances are reflected in any alimony determination, whether by a Judge or settlement.

The Law Offices of Robert Dawson

The right family law attorney can take some of the uncertainty out of the divorce process by preparing and advising you about the road ahead. If you or your spouse intends on pursuing a separation or divorce, contact The Law Offices of Robert Dawson. We can navigate this process together.  


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Law Office of Robert Dawson

You have more power than you realize. If you need a professional attorney who has built a reputation within employment and business law, contact the Law Offices of Robert Dawson. We are passionate about protecting our clients and pursuing their interests. Contact us for tailored legal solutions.

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