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What factors will a court consider in spousal maintenance cases?

Sometimes, one spouse in Virginia has a much higher income than the other spouse. It may even be the case that one spouse will stay out of the workforce entirely to care for the family while the other spouse climbs the corporate ladder. These income disparities may not be such an issue while a couple is married, but if the couple decides to divorce, this issue is thrust into the spotlight. In situations like this, it is possible that the lesser-earning spouse may seek spousal maintenance from the higher-earning spouse.

When deciding how much to award in maintenance and how long maintenance will be paid, the court will consider a number of factors. The court will consider both spouses' financial needs and resources, which will include income from any source. Each spouse's earning capacity may be a factor. Each spouse's property interests may also be considered. The standard of living the couple enjoyed while married will also be considered. If one spouse paid for the other spouse's education to further that spouse's career it may be considered, since such contributions may have been made with the intention that both spouses would benefit from the increase in income.

How long the marriage lasted may also be considered. Depending on the circumstances, a longer marriage may mean a greater award of maintenance compared to a shorter marriage. Each spouse's age and health may also be considered. Whether it is appropriate for one spouse to be a stay-at-home parent post-divorce is also a consideration. Each spouse's contributions to the family, both financially and otherwise, may be considered. There may be other factors the court will consider as well.

In the end, a maintenance award needs to be fair to both parties. It must be enough that the receiving spouse is able to get by financially, without totally draining the finances of the supporting spouse. For these reasons, maintenance can become a hot-button issue in a divorce. While it may be possible for a couple to negotiate maintenance out-of-court, neither side wants to be taken advantage of. Because of the adversarial nature of the issue, sometimes spouses must turn to a judge to determine how much maintenance to award and how long the award will last.

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