The financial consequences of divorce may have lasting effects on a party’s monetary stability for years following the conclusion of the case. Virginia is an equitable distribution jurisdiction, meaning that in any divorce proceeding, the circuit court has the authority to classify the property of the parties as separate, marital or hybrid. The court then uses this designation when distributing the debts and property of the parties. Pursuant to Virginia’s equitable distribution statute, Virginia Code § 20-107.3, the court must consider all debts and property belonging to the parties, which includes all real, personal, tangible and intangible property.
While Virginia’s equitable distribution statute is intended to create a fair system for the division of property and debt, it may have unintended results for parties involved in a divorce who either entered the marriage with student loan debt or acquired student loan debt … Read More »
In many Virginia divorce cases, the parties resolve outstanding issues between them by use of a separation agreement, also frequently referred to as a “marital settlement agreement” or “property settlement agreement.” Often, parties are advised by their counsel that such an agreement will be “incorporated” into their final order of divorce, and most parties don’t even bother to question that advice, and even more are not even aware that the court has broad discretion to incorporate all, some or none of the provisions of their separation agreement.
So, what does it mean to incorporate an agreement (in whole or in part) into a final order of divorce, and what happens if the court does not incorporate the agreement into its final order of divorce?
Contract vs. Court Order
To begin answering those questions, let’s step back and ask: what is the difference between a private contract and … 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 »
Contested divorce cases can be extremely costly. The costs are often driven up by an aggressive opposing party or counsel, or through multiple actions being heard at the same time, sometimes even in different courts. If you find yourself in such a situation, you may not be able to completely prevent costs from rising. However, there are some steps you can take to help keep your attorney’s fees as low as possible. Here are three tips for keeping costs down in your divorce:
Consolidate communications with your attorney. Communication between you and your attorney will be essential in your divorce. However, in many cases a client will both telephone and email their attorney several times in the course of a day. Costs can add up quickly if you do not do your part to make each communication efficient and meaningful. If time permits, … 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 »
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 »
It is not uncommon for people undergoing divorce to approach their attorneys with a laundry list of terms regarding their children that they would like included in their separation agreement, or for people who already divorced to approach attorneys with child-related terms of an existing separation agreement which they need enforced. What many people are surprised to hear is that some of those terms which they would like included, or some of the terms that may already be in their agreement, are actually unenforceable under Virginia law.
The first thing to understand in this area is that provisions in agreements regarding child custody, visitation and child support are always modifiable based upon a material change in circumstances. Always! So, any provision in an agreement which indefinitely prohibits the modification of custody, visitation or child support would be unenforceable.
Secondly, there are plenty of … Read More »
How you hold title to your real estate (real property) may have an impact on whether or not it can be left to someone in your will. When having a will drafted and considering who you want your real property to pass to upon your death, it is important to know how title to your real property is held. It is also important that you provide your attorney with the title or deed of trust for each piece of real property that you own so that it can be properly addressed in your will.
Title refers to legal ownership and the right to use property. There are several forms of ownership of real property in Virginia, including:
Sole ownership. Title to real property held in the name of one person is sole ownership. The person who is the sole owner of the property … 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 »
So, you think, or you know, that your spouse is cheating on you. As devastating as this discovery can be, many people are just as devastated to find out that Virginia law can, and often does, protect the adulterer.
In Virginia, adultery is defined as the act of sexual intercourse by a married person with any person who is not their spouse. It is a ground for divorce under Virginia Code § 20-91. It is also illegal, a Class 4 misdemeanor according to Virginia Code § 18.2-365. While adultery as a crime is rarely, if ever, prosecuted, the fact that adultery is still technically illegal in Virginia has a significant impact on many divorce cases.
For a court to grant a divorce on the ground of adultery, Virginia law requires proof by “clear and convincing” evidence, a higher standard of proof than other grounds … Read More »