What To Know When Modifying Spousal Support

divorce attorney helping clients with a spousal support modification

Spousal support – or alimony – is less common in Virginia divorces than it once was, but it can play an important role for spouses who are left without the financial ability to support themselves upon divorce. The State of Virginia recognizes that life’s circumstances sometimes change and that modifications of divorce terms, including spousal support, are sometimes necessary.

If you’re in a situation in which you believe a spousal support modification is in order – or if your ex-spouse is seeking a modification – it’s time to consult with an experienced Fairfax divorce attorney.


In the State of Virginia, there are specific guidelines for when a party can request a spousal support modification. If there is sufficient reason for doing so, either spouse can request that the amount of spousal support is increased or decreased, that the duration be extended or abbreviated, or that the support is ended altogether – unless the original order specifically states that it is not modifiable.

The Basis for Modifications

Virginia courts can terminate spousal support for any of the following primary reasons:


  1. The recipient remarries – in which case, he or she is required by law to inform the payor
  2. Either party dies (unless stipulated otherwise)
  3. The recipient cohabitates with someone else in a relationship that is analogous to marriage for a year or more (unless stipulated otherwise or deemed unconscionable, which is rare)


Reasons the court may increase or decrease the amount of spousal support – or alter its duration – include:


  1. Either party – or both parties – experienced a change in circumstances that was not anticipated at the time the support was determined.
  2. An event that the court expected to happen, which would have changed one or both parties’ circumstances, failed to occur.


When the Matter of Modification Is Addressed in the Terms

When the original divorce terms themselves stipulate that spousal support modifications can’t be made, the court lacks the jurisdiction to modify the matter. If the divorce decree, however, does not address the matter of spousal support modifications (or stipulates when modifications can be addressed), the court has the authority to make modifications in accordance with whatever parameters are set forth (if any).

The Court’s Stance

When the court addresses the matter of spousal support modifications, it generally explores each party’s overall financial situation – in terms of their current incomes and their reasonable monthly expenses. Spousal support is intended to strike a balance between each spouse’s income in relation to his or her reasonable expenses, and if either ex’s financial circumstances – or both exes’ financial circumstances – have changed significantly, the court may determine that a spousal support modification is in order.

An Experienced Fairfax Divorce Lawyer Can Help

If you need a spousal support modification – or your ex is seeking one – the best divorce attorneys from Curran Moher Weis in Fairfax, Virginia, have an abundance of experience successfully guiding challenging cases like yours toward favorable resolutions that support our client’s best interests. We’re here for you, so please don’t hesitate to contact us online or call us at (571) 328-5020 for more information today.

Could Living With a Friend Cut Off Spousal Support?

In the recent case of Brennan v. Albertson, Sheila Brennan had her spousal support (also referred to as alimony) terminated when she was found by a Court to have been living with a partner in a relationship analogous to marriage for more than one year. What made the case unique was that Ms. Brennan’s partner was female — and there was no evidence that the two had any sort of romantic or sexual relationship.

In Virginia law, a typical spousal support award terminates upon one of the following things occurring:

1) the death of either party;

2) the remarriage of the recipient spouse; or

3) if it is proven that the recipient spouse has been habitually cohabiting with another person in a relationship analogous to marriage for one year or more.

While death and remarriage are pretty straightforward, cohabitation is often far less so.

Brennan met her friend, Lisa Baker, at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 2006, around the time Brennan was going through divorce proceedings with her then-husband, Paul Albertson. Shortly after Brennan and her husband divorced, she purchased a large home with a significant amount of her own money, and Baker moved in with her. Baker paid the mortgage and utility bills. They ate meals together, watched each other’s children, attended extended family functions together, and contributed financially to each other’s children. However, they maintained separate bank accounts, car titles, and had no romantic or sexual relationship. They characterized their relationship as being very close friends, and “like sisters.”

No single factor can determine whether individuals are cohabiting in a relationship analogous to marriage. As a result, cases involving cohabitation are highly fact-specific, as was this case. After a thorough review of the evidence, the trial court terminated support, holding essentially that the financial and other support provided each party constituted a relationship analogous to marriage. The trial court was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

What does this mean moving forward?

The Court of Appeals took great pains to paint the case at issue as one-of-a-kind, involving a rare set of circumstances that was not likely to be the basis for an explosion of other, similar cases. The Court also specifically exempted people living with family members as being eligible to have their support cut off, as a relationship between family members “differs intrinsically” from a relationship between unrelated persons. It remains to be seen whether this case will be a “one-hit wonder,” or whether it will have a larger impact across the domestic relations field in Virginia.

If you have questions about spousal support in Virginia, or whether cohabitation may be applicable to your situation, call the experienced Fairfax Family Law attorneys at Curran|Moher P.C. at (571) 328-5020.