The state appeals court recently issued a decision in a divorce case involving a motion to amend spousal support. The parties’ divorce decree was entered in July 2019, and neither party appealed. During this time, the husband was president and sole employee of a home building company. The wife filed a petition arguing that the husband did not pay spousal support on time; in response, the husband moved to reduce spousal support. During proceedings, the husband conceded that his business received COVID-19 relief, and he failed to show evidence that he was pursuing additional work. However, he argued that his failure to pay was not due to willfulness but rather his inability to pay. Amongst other findings, the court found in favor of the wife and ordered the husband to pay support to cover the arrearage. The husband appealed several findings, including the trial court’s failure to reduce spousal support.
Under Virginia law, upon petition, a court may increase, decrease, or terminate spousal support and maintenance. The party moving for the change must establish a “material change in circumstances” that “warrants a modification of support.” The material change must involve the dependent spouse’s financial needs or the ability of the supporting spouse to pay. Trial courts maintain broad discretion in determining whether a material change warrants a modification. Further, appellate courts must afford the trial court with deference when reviewing these matters.
In this case, the court determined that while there was a material change in circumstances, the husband failed to prove that the change warranted a reduction. Although the husband showed that COVID-19 brought slowdowns in the home building industry, he failed to disclose his finances fully. Further, the husband failed to meet his burden to seek other employment because he did not seek or apply for any other job. In this case, it was not the wife’s burden to establish a need for support, and instead, it was the husband’s burden to show that the wife’s need for support changed. Ultimately, the appellate court found that the trial court evaluated the parties’ circumstances and did not err in their decision to deny the husband’s motion to reduce spousal support.