Divorce in General
Divorce is frequently an emotional and overwhelming process. Whether your divorce is your first introduction to the legal system or you have had legal issues before, it is important to have an experienced divorce lawyer on your side to ensure that your rights are protected and best interests are being served.
I am dedicated to standing by clients throughout the entirety of their family law cases and afterward whenever necessary. If you are seeking assistance with a contested divorce or an uncontested divorce, custody or visitation case, and are in need of a Richmond, Virginia attorney, I can meet with you to determine how to best tailor my divorce and family law services to meet your needs.
Property Settlement/Separation Agreements
Unlike some other states, there is no such thing as a “legal separation” that can be granted by a Virginia court. Spouses contemplating divorce in Virginia can, however, enter into a contract with one another which is commonly referred to as a separation agreement or property settlement agreement (“PSA”). This is a legally binding contract between spouses and can be entered into prior to separation or subsequent to separation and gives divorcing spouses the ability to determine issues such as division of property themselves.
Having a property settlement agreement in place provides an additional benefit to spouses who do not have minor children: it decreases the “living separate and apart” waiting period required before legally being able to file for divorce from one year to six months pursuant to Virginia law.
Although as a divorce and family law attorney I generally encourage parties to settle their differences among themselves rather than resorting to litigation, it should always be kept in mind that every situation is different. You should also make sure you know what you are agreeing to before you sign anything your spouse presents to you. I highly recommend and encourage each party meet with an experienced Virginia attorney who can review any agreement presented to them by their spouse before signing. If you are seeking a dedicated Virginia lawyer to draft or review a property settlement agreement on your behalf, please don’t hesitate to call my office to schedule a free consultation.
Uncontested Divorce or No-Fault Divorce
In Virginia, there are several grounds for divorce, typically categorized as either “no-fault divorce” or “fault divorce.” Although Virginia still recognizes fault bases for divorce, including, adultery, desertion, and cruelty, most divorces end on the no-fault ground of living separate and apart for the required statutory period of time (either six months or one year, depending on your circumstances).
As stated above, under Virginia law if you and your spouse have entered into a separation or property settlement agreement and have no minor children, then you can file for and obtain the divorce on no-fault grounds of living separate and apart after only six months of separation.
If there is no property settlement agreement in place and/or you and your spouse have minor children together, a party may file for an uncontested or no-fault divorce in Virginia if they have lived separate and apart from their spouse with in the intent to obtain a divorce for over one year.
In Virginia, a contested divorce is one in which the parties do not agree on the terms of the divorce. Items of contention may include issues such as the grounds of divorce, child custody and visitation, spousal support, and/or how to classify and divide property and debts. It is important to have an experienced attorney on your side to ensure that your interests are protected. Contact attorney Allison L. Bridges today for a free consultation regarding your divorce or other family law matter.
If you and your spouse have property and cannot agree amongst yourselves as who will receive the property or any portion of value therein, you must resort to litigation by petitioning the court for what is called an “equitable distribution” hearing.
Pursuant to a Virginia equitable distribution hearing, property and debts are first classified as either marital, separate, or hybrid. Once classified, the court determines the value of the parties property and debts, and then divides the marital portion according to the laws of “equitable distribution.” This means that marital property and assets are divided fairly, but not necessarily equally. In allocating and dividing marital property and debt the Court is obligated to take into consideration a number of statutory factors, including but not limited to:
- Each party’s monetary and non-monetary contributions to the marriage
- The relative economic circumstances of the parties
- The duration of the marriage
- The contribution by one party to the personal career or educational opportunities of the other party
- The contribution of each party to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income, assets, and liabilities
- The intentional depletion or destruction of marital assets, often referred to as “dissipation” or “waste.”
Spousal Support (Alimony)
Sometimes referred to as alimony or spousal maintenance, spousal support is the amount of money paid from one spouse to the other in order to support the lifestyle to which the spouse had become accustomed to during the marriage. Not all cases involve spousal support payments. However, if requested, the Court will take several factors into consideration in determining whether to award spousal support to the requesting spouse and if so awarded, the amount and duration of such support payments. Pursuant to the Code of Virginia, some of those factors include:
- Each spouse’s income & earning capacity
- Obligations, needs, and financial resources of the parties
- The duration of the marriage
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- Age, physical, and mental condition of the parties
- Monetary and Non-Monetary contributions of the parties to the marriage
Child support is typically calculated according to presumptive guidelines which are set by Virginia statute by using a specific formula. This formula takes into consideration a variety of factors, such as number of children, gross income of each parent and certain expenses such as child care costs and health insurance costs. Although the Virginia child support guideline calculation amount is presumed to be the correct and proper amount, the court may deviate from the guidelines in appropriate circumstances. If you have received a petition for child support or are contemplating filing for child support yourself, contact attorney Allison L. Bridges for a consultation.
The amount of support payable is subject to change so long as the obligation to support remains. The child support amount may be increased or decreased if the court finds that a material change occurs in the circumstances of either or both of the parents or of the child.
Child Custody and Visitation
Child custody and visitation cases in Virginia are most often handled based on a standard referred to as “the best interests of the child.” There are a variety of circumstances and factors that a Court must take into consideration when deciding a custody or visitation matter under this standard. Some of those factors include:
- The age and mental and physical condition of the child and of each parent;
- Each parent’s relationship with the child and ability to meet the child’s emotional, intellectual, and physical needs;
- The role that each parent has played in the upbringing and care of the child;
- The ability and willingness of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent;
- The ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
- Any history of family abuse;
- Any other factor the court considers necessary and appropriate to the determination of the child’s best interests.
The Court can also take into consideration the preference of the child if the court finds that the child displays a level of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience enabling the child to express such a preference.
Although the majority of custody and visitation petitions are brought by natural parents, Virginia does not limit the ability to seek custody and visitation solely to a child’s natural and biological parents. Rather, in certain circumstances, grandparents, other relatives, and even unrelated third parties have standing to seek custody and visitation if a court finds them to be a person with a “legitimate interest.”
Modifications of Existing Orders
Although judges try to account for future circumstances when initially making custody and visitation determinations, it can often be near impossible to foresee how the life of your child and the circumstances surrounding your child can change after the initial order is entered by the Court. As a result, it is often the case that a party will need to seek to have the order modified to account for such changes. A person seeking to modify an existing order, however, must allege and prove two things: first, that there has been a material change in circumstances since the most recent custody and visitation order was entered, and second, that a change in the current order would be in the child’s best interests. What constitutes a “material change in circumstances” is left up to the discretion of the judge presiding over the case and can be either a negative or a positive change. Positive changes could include such things as a parent’s remarriage or obtaining a new position at work that allows for more time with the child. Examples of negative changes could include a parent’s conviction of a criminal charge, the child developing behavioral or academic problems, or a parent’s lifestyle otherwise becoming unstable to a point that it constitutes a threat to the welfare and wellbeing of the child.
If your current custody and visitation order has become unmanageable or you or your children are unhappy with the current custody and visitation arrangement, consult with an experienced family law attorney. I have handled many cases involving modification of custody and visitation orders and can help you explore your options if you need to change the current order or if you have been served with a motion from another party who is requesting that the current order be amended. I represent clients in Hanover, Henrico, Caroline, Chesterfield, and throughout the Metropolitan Richmond area. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.
The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court and the Circuit Court are the trial level courts for family law matters. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court and the Circuit Court are the trial level courts for family law matters. Divorces can only be heard by the Circuit Court. If the Circuit Court is hearing the divorce, it can also hear all of the issues that are involved in the divorce, such as fault, support, division of property, custody and visitation, and so on. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court can make determinations regarding child custody, visitation and child support, as well as spousal support; however unlike the Circuit Courts, J&DR Courts cannot hear issues relating to allocation of property and debt or dissolution of marriage.
Contact Our Office Today
You do not have to deal with your family law issues alone. Let us at Parcell & Webb, P.C. help you address the issues and move forward with your life. Contact family law attorney Allison L. Bridges today to schedule consultation.