As everyone knows at this point, same-sex marriage is now legal in the Commonwealth of Virginia. On October 7, 2014 Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Executive Order #30 titled “Marriage Equality in the Commonwealth of Virginia.” The order directed all state agencies, authorities, commissions and other entities within Virginia to quickly make any necessary policy changes to afford same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
Now that Virginia allows and recognizes same-sex marriages, same-sex couples will no longer need to travel outside the Commonwealth to resolve their family law issues. Below is a summary of the impact of marriage equality on four areas of family law in Virginia:
1. Divorce. Any couple with a valid marriage from Virginia, a foreign state or country may now file for divorce in Virginia, provided the parties were married in Virginia, last resided as a couple in Virginia, or one spouse has resided in Virginia for at least six months prior to filing. Be sure to consult with an experienced divorce attorney and confirm that your union was a valid marriage.
2. Spousal Support. Virginia Code § 20-107.1 will now apply to same-sex spouses seeking spousal support in divorce and separate maintenance actions. One important spousal support factor under § 20-107.1 is the “duration of the marriage,” which may be argued in same-sex cases to include any time in which the parties lived in a civil union prior to their ability to legally wed.
3. Custody. It is difficult to speculate how quickly the area of custody law will change now that same-sex couples must be afforded the same recognition as heterosexual couples. Historically, many Virginia courts have not favorably viewed same-sex relationships in custody cases. See Bottoms v. Bottoms, 249 Va. 410, 457 S.E.2d 102 (1995). Moving forward, family law attorneys will have to work with the courts to resolve complicated issues such as whether Virginia law will allow for a presumption in favor of a biological parent.
4. Adoption. Same-sex couples can now legally adopt children in Virginia, and members of married same-sex couples may adopt the children of their partners. Previously, adoption agencies and licensed social workers were permitted to discriminate against same-sex couples in Virginia. That is no longer the case. Same-sex adoptions should be handled the same way as adoptions by opposite-sex couples. If you are a member of a same-sex couple looking to adopt your partner’s biological child, you will want to discuss with your adoption attorney how the rights of the other biological parent were terminated.
The family lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. represent members of same-sex couples in divorce, custody, support, adoption and other family law cases across Northern Virginia. If you are in a same-sex relationship and have questions regarding your rights and obligations under Virginia family law, contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys today.