The Difference between Alimony and Child Support

Mother holding child

When a couple is going through a divorce case in Virginia, there are two different financial awards that a judge can order one spouse to pay to the other. These are known as alimony and child support. Here is the difference between the two. 

What is Alimony?

Alimony, commonly referred to as “spousal support,” is intended to help one spouse to maintain the general lifestyle that they have grown accustomed to during the marriage. In determining who receives alimony and how much, both parties’ earning capacities are examined. Generally, alimony is not a permanent payment situation. 

Virginia does not have a hard and fast rule as to how long a spouse will receive alimony; rather, it varies from case to case. However, there are four main types of alimony, or spousal support:

1. Temporary Spousal Support

Since it can take more than a year between when you file for divorce and when the divorce is finalized, temporary spousal support, or pendente lite, can be paid to the lower-earning spouse. Sometimes the parties agree on the amount to be paid, while other times they will appear before a judge to determine the amount. 

There are statutory guidelines for calculating temporary spousal support depending upon the family’s gross monthly income and whether or not there are minor children. 

2. Limited Spousal Support

Some spousal support may be paid out for a limited amount of time. This is generally the case for shorter marriages in which the parties have vastly different incomes or where one spouse was out of work for a period of time in order to raise the children. 

3. Undefined or Permanent Spousal Support

Spousal support without a defined duration is generally awarded to parties who were married for close to or more than 20 years. This is also often the case when one spouse has been out of the workforce for an extended period of time in order to raise children or to support the working spouse. However, permanent spousal support doesn’t have to be permanent; either party is entitled to ask for a change in support if and when circumstances materially change. 

Regardless of the type of spousal support awarded, these obligations will automatically cease if either party dies or if the recipient of the support remarries. The paying spouse may also ask for a termination of spousal support if the recipient of the support starts to cohabitate with someone else in a relationship similar to a marriage for a period of at least one year. However, this termination must be asked for and is not automatic. 

What is Child Support?

Child support is a payment that is intended to cover the basic needs of a minor child. Basic necessities for a child include:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Clothes
  • School supplies and other expenses
  • Extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and camps
  • Books and toys

It is usually structured as a bi-weekly or monthly payment and both parents are expected to contribute to support their minor children financially. However, if one parent has greater physical custody or if one parent earns significantly more than the other parent, it’s probable that one parent will make an “adjusting payment” to the other in order to keep things equitable. 

Additionally, under the law parents must share any medical expenses for their minor children that are not reimbursed. The amount that they are to pay is directly in proportion to their respective incomes. Like spousal support, child support can always be modified should there be a material change in circumstances. 

Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC Can Help Those in VA Who Are Going Through a Divorce

If you or a loved one is going through a divorce in Virginia, there can be a lot of financial implications. That’s why it’s in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney who has experience dealing with spousal and child support and can help to walk you through the process. At Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC, we work hard to ensure that our clients receive the best outcome. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!

Posted in: Divorce, Family Law