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Major Changes To Virginia Family Law On July 1, 2013

Virginia CodeThe Virginia General Assembly’s 2013 session has come to a close, and the Governor has signed two new bills related to family law that were passed by the Senate and House of Delegates. Effective July 1, 2013, these bills will change Virginia family law in four very important areas:

  1. Deviation from child support guidelines. Virginia law establishes that child support be calculated according to guidelines which establish a “presumptively correct” amount of support, but then allows courts to “deviate” from the guidelines amount based upon a list of potentially relevant factors. Effective July 1, 2013, the list of factors which might justify deviation is expanded greatly (from five factors to 15 factors), which could have profound effects on support calculations in certain cases.
  2. Child care costs incurred while attending educational or vocational programs. Under current law, many custodial parents attempting to obtain additional education or training in order to increase their incomes have struggled. Many of these parents have no choice but to put their children in daycare while attending classes or training. However, theses parents were unlikely to receive a credit for child care costs incurred due to attendance at an educational or vocational program. Courts were only permitted to give credit in child support calculations for work-related child care costs, and these programs were not considered “work” for that purpose. As a result, in many cases the combined financial burden of the child care costs and the educational or vocational program costs was too much for the parent to carry. Parents were forced to either take fewer educational or vocational classes or quit their programs entirely. This was to the long-term detriment of both parties in these support cases. With spousal support or child support, if the recipient of support through education or training can increase their income, then the payor of support can ultimately see their obligation reduced. But, effective July 1, 2013, Virginia courts will be permitted to consider child care costs incurred on behalf of the child or children due to the attendance of the custodial parent in an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential.
  3. Voluntary unemployment or underemployment. Also on July 1, 2013, Virginia Code Section 20-108.1 will be changed to allow courts to consider the reasonableness of a party’s voluntary unemployment or underemployment when the party is attending and completing an educational or vocational program that is likely to maintain or increase their earning potential. This is not to say that a party could not be imputed income while attending an educational or vocational program. The court can consider all the relevant factors, including but not limited to gifts (e.g. friends/family paying for rent), loans taken out for living expenses, etc.
  4. Required notices in certain divorce cases. Virginia Code Section 20-99 will be modified as it relates to notice and filing answers to suits for divorce. Under the current law, if a respondent is properly served with a Complaint for Divorce and fails to file a timely Answer or otherwise enter an appearance, no further notice to take depositions in the divorce is required to be served on the respondent. Additionally, the court can enter a Final Decree of Divorce without further notice. This law will be expanded on July 1, 2013 to require no further notice for an ore tenus hearing in a divorce proceeding. The new law puts a further burden on the responding party to file a timely response or risk becoming divorced without any notice or relief from the court.

Please note that if your case is pending prior to these laws coming into effect, then the court must decide it based on the prior law. If you had a support case pending prior to July 1st, you might benefit from filing a Motion to Nonsuit, asking the court to dismiss your case, which would allow you to re-file your case under the new law.

These are all important changes to Virginia family law. If you have questions regarding these new laws and how they might impact your divorce or support case, contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys today.

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