When parents decide to split up, the first thought to enter their minds is often “What is going to happen to the children?” In many cases, one or both parties will file Petitions for Custody and Visitation to protect the interests of their minor children. Depending on which court the petitions are filed in, the parties may not obtain a resolution to their custody and visitation dispute for several months, or in some cases a year or more.
Due to the number of family law cases being filed these days, courts are encouraging parties to mediate their claims and/or enter into “consent orders.” A Consent Custody and Visitation Order is a court order wherein the parties agree on the terms relating to custody and visitation of the minor children. Although some parties just cannot agree on custody and insist on litigating … Read More »
Family law encompasses many issues affecting families, including but not limited to divorce, child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, protective orders, pre/post-nuptial agreements and equitable distribution. With so much information on the internet, it may be difficult to get accurate answers about certain issues. Below, we debunk four common myths of family law in Virginia.
Myth #1: once a divorce is filed, the court cannot grant any relief until the end of the case.
This is false: circuit courts can grant temporary relief while a divorce suit is pending. Once a divorce suit is filed in circuit court, either party may file a motion for “pendente lite” (pending final resolution) relief. Pursuant to Virginia Code § 20-103, the court may then enter a pendente lite order:
to compel a spouse to pay monies necessary for the maintenance and support of the petitioning … Read More »
An action for divorce in Virginia commences with the filing of a complaint for divorce by one spouse (the plaintiff) against his or her spouse (the defendant) in the appropriate circuit court. Once the complaint and summons are served on the defendant, he/she has 21 days to answer the complaint. The defendant’s answer may consist of denials and admissions to the plaintiff’s allegations and may include the pleading of other facts—providing their side of the story. The defendant may raise any and all defenses to the plaintiff’s alleged ground for divorce and even file a counter-claim against the plaintiff seeking similar relief.
In Virginia, a divorce can be filed on fault-based or “no-fault” grounds. The fault-based grounds include adultery, cruelty and desertion. The no-fault ground is (1) separation for at least twelve months or (2) separation for at least six months, with a separation agreement … Read More »
Many family law clients ask the same question during their initial consultation: “which court should I file in?” In Virginia, both the juvenile and domestic relations district court (“J&DR court”) and the circuit court handle family law cases. The J&DR court has the power to hear matters concerning custody, visitation, child support, and spousal support. The circuit court can hear all of the same issues, in addition to divorce and equitable distribution.
Unmarried couples with children must file in the J&DR court for custody, visitation, and child support to be determined. For couples who are divorcing, there are factual, procedural, and strategic considerations that come into play when determining which court to start in. Generally speaking, if one of the parties has grounds for a divorce, it may make more sense to begin the matter in circuit court, but this is … Read More »
In Virginia, there are two types of courts that handle family law cases: juvenile and domestic relations district courts (“J&DR courts”) and circuit courts. Circuit courts have the authority to hear divorce cases and all matters stemming from divorce, including child custody, visitation and support, spousal support and equitable distribution. J&DR courts can hear cases of custody, visitation, child support and spousal support, but have no authority over divorce matters. J&DR courts thus hear many cases involving unmarried individuals who share children—but are not off limits to married persons by any means.
In some instances, married individuals may file petitions for custody, visitation or support in J&DR court, even if they intend to ultimately seek a divorce in circuit court. In many cases, neither individual of the married couple has grounds to file for divorce in Virginia, but still needs a determination … Read More »
If you do not know the whereabouts of your spouse, it is still possible to proceed with a divorce. Because each party in a divorce must have notice of any claims asserted against them, an absent spouse becomes an issue for purposes of service, which is the process by which parties to a case are provided with notice of the legal proceedings. In these cases, notice can be provided by using “service by publication.” Service by publication is the method of publishing an order, which acts as sufficient notice of the divorce proceedings to the spouse whose location cannot be found.
There are several potential issues with service by publication that you should be aware of if you intend to use this method in your divorce case.
First, service by publication is only to be used when one spouse truly has no … Read More »
In Virginia, a spouse who spends or disposes of marital property for an improper purpose (a) anticipating a separation or divorce or (b) after the final separation of the parties may have committed “marital waste.” The court has the authority to consider such behavior in making an equitable distribution award.
Marital waste (or “dissipation of assets”) typically occurs when one party transfers funds out of a marital account or otherwise misuses marital funds after the marriage begins deteriorating. The aggrieved spouse must only show that the funds were withdrawn or used by the other spouse. The burden of proof then shifts to the alleged wrongdoer to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the funds were spent on a proper purpose. It should be noted that Virginia courts have held that spending money on living expenses post-separation does not usually constitute … Read More »
In most cases, when one thinks of adoption, they imagine a child being taken into a loving “forever” home. Virginia law, however, allows for the adoption of an adult, though specific circumstances must apply. For instance, a stepparent may adopt an adult stepchild if that stepparent has stood “in loco parentis” to the child for at least three months. Standing “in loco parentis” means standing “in place of a parent.”
In addition, a close relative of an adult may institute proceedings for the adoption. Under the applicable Virginia Code § 63.2-1242.1, a close relative is defined as a “grandparent, great-grandparent, adult nephew or niece, adult brother or sister, adult uncle or aunt, or adult great uncle or great aunt.”
The Virginia Code also permits a petitioner to adopt an adult if the person to be adopted is the birth child of the petitioner … Read More »
In Virginia, courts are required to base custody and visitation determinations on the best interests of the child. The specific factors courts should consider in determining what is in a child’s best interests are set forth in Virginia Code § 20-124.3. One of these factors is:
“[t]he propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child.”
This factor generally appears in custody and visitation cases where one or both parents is speaking negatively about the other parent around the child, or overtly barring access to the child without cause. (Speaking negatively about the other parent “around the child” can include denigration of the other parent on social media.)
This factor also comes into play when the primary … Read More »
Are you separated from your spouse, or otherwise undergoing marital difficulties? If so, you may find yourself wondering whether your spouse can disinherit you. In Virginia, the short answer is no. Virginia law protects surviving spouses from being disinherited by allowing the surviving spouse to claim an “elective share” of the decedent’s estate if the decedent died without a will, if the spouse is omitted from the will, and even if the decedent explicitly disinherited the surviving spouse in the will. The right to an elective share continues even where the parties are separated or pending divorce, until a divorce is final.
What Are You Entitled to Under the Elective Share?
The answer to this question is going to change for decedents dying on or after January 1, 2017, based on some 2016 revisions to the Virginia Code.
For decedents dying before January … Read More »