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The Impact of Retirement on Spousal Support

The Impact of Retirement on Spousal Support

What happens when a former spouse has been ordered to pay spousal support indefinitely, but now wants to retire? In the past, some Virginia courts ruled that the payor's retirement - even if at a normal retirement age - does not warrant a reconsideration of spousal support. This created quite a predicament for a payor who wanted to retire but didn’t know whether he or she would be able to obtain a reduction in the support obligation commensurate with his or her post-retirement income.

A voluntary reduction in the payor's income may not trigger a reduction in the support obligation. Since retirement is typically voluntary, some courts did not consider retirement to be a material change in circumstances that justified modifying support. Unable to prove a material change in circumstances, a retiree could not even get a hearing on whether the parties’ new financial situations merited a reduction or termination of support.

The law in Virginia was changed effective July 1, 2018. When the payor becomes eligible to receive full Social Security retirement benefits, retirement is automatically considered a material change in circumstances. The court shall then consider other relevant factors to decide whether to reduce or terminate support, including the circumstances of the payor's retirement, the resulting change in income to both the payor and the former spouse, their ages and health, the duration and amount of spousal support already paid, and the assets or resources of each party.

Spousal support will not automatically end when a payor retires at a normal retirement age, but at least the retiree will be guaranteed a hearing on the issue, at which the court can consider the parties’ new circumstances.

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