Divorce is an emotionally draining process, one that is difficult, complicated, and even devastating to the families involved. Even uncontested divorce causes stress on the body and mind. Help from an experienced divorce attorney in Alexandria, VA who is well-versed in Virginia family law can make all the difference.
The right family law attorney can help you dissolve your marriage as quickly and efficiently as possible under the correct circumstances. Learn about areas of family law involving divorce in Virginia from Arlington to Fairfax, and beyond, and how a divorce attorney at ShounBach Family Law may be able to help. Contact ShounBach at 703-222-3333 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation today.
Virginia has very specific laws in place that outline the divorce process, whether contested or uncontested. To begin with, divorce begins with separation for at least six months for couples that have no children. Separation means the couple occupies physically separate spaces and does not cohabitate in any way whatsoever and must not engage in domestic relations. In addition, the couple in an uncontested divorce must have a written property settlement agreement.
If children are involved, the couple must be separated for at least a year before divorce proceedings can begin. In addition, if any child is under 18, both parents must complete the state Families in Transition, or FITS, program.
After the separation, one or both members of the couple file a Complaint for Divorce with the circuit courts. Where it goes from this point depends on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Contested divorces take much longer in general than uncontested ones do, but there is no specific time frame for either.
Circuit courts have the ability and authority to try civil cases as well as criminal cases, and divorce cases are civil with a private nature. These courts can also call on special grand juries when needed that can aid in difficult decisions; though in general, civil cases involving divorce, and nonmonetary claims are heard by a judge and only a judge. A jury can be convened at the request of any party involved where money is at stake.
Virginia has several specific grounds for a fault-based divorce. No-fault divorce means you can file for divorce in Alexandria, VA without making a claim that your spouse has done something to irrevocably damage the marriage. No-fault divorce is also called an uncontested divorce.
Fault-based divorce means one or both spouses have engaged in a level of bad conduct that led to the breakdown of the marriage. It also means there is no chance of reconciliation. In Alexandria, VA, reasons for fault-based divorce include:
Adultery is one of the most common reasons for a fault-based divorce, but it can also be one of the most difficult to prove. The state of Virginia requires evidence that is “clear and convincing.” This is because, in this state, adultery is also considered a felony crime. The sheer level of evidence required to prove it makes it one of the most expensive means of divorce as well as one of the most time-consuming. Whether or not infidelity can be proven affects everything from alimony to division of property.
Cruelty is defined strictly as any level of bodily harm or personal injury that creates a risk to health, life, or limb. In Virginia, a single injury can be enough; ongoing abuse is not necessary. Cruelty can also be defined as serious psychological harm from humiliation to abusive language to coercion and even malicious annoyance. Proof of psychological damage must be provided in this case because psychological cruelty is not directly defined.
Willful desertion is also called abandonment. This means that a spouse leaves their partner for at least a continuous year out of “willful and malicious intent”. The intent is key — a woman who flees an abusive spouse to protect her children does not possess malicious intent, for example.
If one of the spouses is charged with and convicted of a criminal felony, and their criminal defense receives at least one year of incarceration as a result, this can be grounds for divorce in Virginia. This can involve anything from DUI to murder. The plaintiff must provide the courts with proof of their partner’s incarceration in this case.
As mentioned above, an uncontested divorce is a no-fault divorce in Virginia. In this case, both spouses agree that their marriage should be dissolved, and neither seeks to blame the other. During an uncontested divorce, a written separation agreement is required that provides for child support and custody as well as equitable division of property. Without children in the picture, this only requires six months’ separation to achieve. With children, a year is required and if the kids are under 18, completion of the FITS program is an additional requirement.
Contested divorces occur when disagreement exists at any point. These divorces don’t necessarily have to be fault-based, but whenever the couple disagrees on anything from the division of property to child custody and child support or even attorney’s fees, the divorce becomes contested. These can be more drawn out and expensive to pursue.
Virginia uses an equitable distribution system for property division in a divorce. Marital property belongs to both spouses, while separate property belongs to one spouse.
With few exceptions, marital property is that which is acquired during the marriage. Separate property was either owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, acquired as an inheritance or gift to one spouse during the marriage, acquired through the sale of separate property during the marriage, or specifically categorized as “separate” through a prenuptial agreement.
Equitable division of marital property considers several factors, including the contributions of each spouse, both economic and non-economic, to the family’s welfare and to the upkeep and maintenance of marital property. It also considers the duration of the marriage, the spouses’ ages and condition (physical and mental), how the property was acquired, spousal debt, the liquid or nonliquid character of their property, and any tax implications. Bad behavior can be considered, as can a spouse doing something to devalue the shared property.
Marital property includes current assets, retirement, estate planning, and debt acquired during the marriage. The nature of debt matters; a couple spending money together for home improvements is different from one spouse running up a personal credit card in their own name.
Alimony, or spousal support, exists on an indefinite basis. The amount is determined upon review of income and assets, the financial obligations of each party, retirement benefits, and comparative earning power. Courts also consider the ability of each spouse to be self-supporting, the costs of necessary education and training to become self-supporting, and the marital standard of living.
In addition, the courts will consider the duration of the marriage, the circumstances of the divorce, and each party’s age and mental health. Agreements between parties are considered, as is the ability of the party who will provide alimony to support themselves while also supporting their former spouse.
Temporary alimony can be granted before the case begins to provide for living needs. Permanent alimony is indefinite. It can be technical, subject to modification under specific conditions, or fixed, which cannot be modified by the courts. Fixed alimony requires a preexisting spousal agreement.
Seeking legal representation from VA divorce lawyers can be the wisest step you can take. Our Alexandria divorce lawyers can apply years of experience in family law matters to protect your property rights or even provide criminal defense against charges of adultery. Contested and military divorce can get complex, and experienced family law offices offer legal services that help smooth the process.
It’s important, however, to not just go with any firm that will treat you like a number. Choose a law office that offers a compassionate ear when you need it. Search for state Super Lawyers; our attorneys are recognized for their excellence by state legal boards.
While the law offices of ShounBach Family Law is one of the largest law firms with practice areas in family law in Northern Virginia, our law office isn’t a massive faceless firm. We make it a point to get to know every client personally so that we can address your needs and provide you with the greatest possible outcome.