During separation, if there is the need on the part of one spouse and the ability on the part of the other spouse to pay, the court may award temporary spousal support. This is called Pendente Lite support. In Fairfax County, a specific calculation is used to determine spousal support. Other jurisdictions may consider the Fairfax method, however, they are not bound to it. Usually there needs to be a disparity in incomes by about 30%, or other factors such as high costs of living born by the party needing support.
At the time of the equitable distribution hearing on property, or in a separate hearing, the court will make a "permanent" determination of spousal support. This may include an award of a reservation of spousal support to one or both parties, a fixed monthly sum until death, remarriage, or cohabitation with another, a fixed monthly sum for a specific duration, or a lump sum award. Lump sum awards are rare because the court is not in a position to determine how that amount of money will meet the person's needs over an unlimited span of time. The more likely outcome is a fixed monthly sum of spousal support.