Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters
April 24, 2012Posted by on
One of the first things people think of when they think about divorce is the division of marital property. Regardless of which side of the divorce they may fall, it seems that most people are interested in having this aspect of the process work out most favorably for them. Given this, let’s take a few minutes to briefly explore how property is allocated during divorce proceedings.
In a divorce action, property is categorized three ways : Marital Property, Separate Property, and Mixed Property. One of the major goals of any divorce action is to preserve property. Thus, many times, one will allege a fault ground, if such a basis exists, so that the Court can immediately make a temporary ruling with regard to the use and disposition of marital property. In deciding how to allocate property, the court is required to make an “equitable” distribution of property. Please note that “equitable” and “equal” do not mean the same thing.
1. Marital Property: Marital property is all property that is either jointly titled or acquired during the marriage other than by gift from third persons or by inheritance. This includes that portion of pensions, profit-sharing or deferred compensation or retirement plans of whatever nature, acquired by either spouse during the marriage, and before the last separation of the parties, if the separation was intended to be permanent. The Court’s powers with regard to titled property are limited. The Court may award jointly titled property to either party, or order the sale of jointly titled property and the proceeds split a certain way. However, separately titled property cannot be given to the non-title holder. Nevertheless, the Court can award monetary compensation to the non-titled owner to offset any gain in marital distribution derived from being the sole titled owner. When making a monetary award, the Court can consider the following factors as identified in Virginia Code Section 20-107.3(E):
a. The contributions, monetary and non-monetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
b. The contributions, monetary and non-monetary, of each party in the acquisition and care and maintenance of such marital property of the parties;
c. The duration of the marriage;
d. The ages and physical and mental condition of the parties;
e. The circumstances and factors which contributed to the dissolution of the marriage, specifically including any ground for divorce;
f . How and when specific items of such marital property were acquired;
g. The debts and liabilities of each spouse, the basis for such debts and liabilities, and the property which may serve as security for such debts and liabilities;
h. The liquid or non-liquid character of all marital property;
i. The tax consequences to each party; and
j. Such other factors as the court deems necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award.
2. Separate, non-marital property: Separate, non-marital property is all property acquired before the marriage in the sole name of either party, and all property acquired during the marriage by gift from third persons or by inheritance, or with the proceeds of separate property, as long as the proceeds of such non-marital property have themselves been kept separate during the marriage. Income derived from separate property is deemed to remain separate property. The Court has no authority to order the division or transfer of separate property.
3. Mixed property: Separate property can be partially converted to marital property and is referred to as mixed property. Income from separate property can be considered martial property to the extent that it is attributable to the significant personal efforts of either party. The non-owning spouse has the burden of showing that the increase is due to his or her personal efforts. When separate and marital property are commingled, the class of property is considered transmuted to the category of property receiving the contribution unless the contributed property is retraceable by a preponderance of the evidence, and was not a gift. When separate and marital property are commingled to purchase or acquire other property, the newly acquired property shall be considered marital property unless the separate property is traceable.
For more information on this topic, or to schedule an in-person consultation, contact Westlake Legal Group at 703-406-7616
March 22, 2012Posted by on
If, having exhausted all other attempts at resolving marital issues, you find yourself facing divorce as a viable option, there are a few things you should consider before any initial action is taken. Among the important decisions to be made is the decision of whether to file for divorce on a fault or a no-fault basis. In this post, we will take a look at each of these types of filings in the hopes of shedding some light on the differences between fault and no-fault divorce filings.
“Fault” bases for divorce usually involve contested divorce actions. These are usually expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. If the fault resulted in an economic impact, fault bases for divorce can be beneficial from a financial stand point as a judge is able to allocate marital property and assets in a way to compensate for the fault. A judge is also able to order the faulting party to pay the non-faulting party’s attorney fees. Fault is usually alleged as a reason to begin a divorce suit, so that one can ask the court to freeze marital property, award temporary support and custody (pendente lite relief), and to be able to seek discovery from the other side (requiring your spouse to produce documents and answer questions under oath), which cannot be done without having first filed a divorce suit. Fault is also used as “leverage” for a settlement; divorce files are public records, and the threat of finalizing a divorce on fault grounds may produce a settlement, one term of which is usually finalizing the divorce on “no fault” grounds.
“No fault” divorces, on the other hand, require a separation period of one year (six months if there are no minor children and there is a separation agreement). To establish grounds for being separate, the parties must provide independent evidence, to meet the standard of preponderance of the evidence, that not only are the parties not engaging in marital relations, but they are not holding themselves out to the public as a married couple. Parties may live separate and apart under the same roof, as long as they limit their interactions in such a way that does not mimic a martial relationship.
While we hope that this information has been helpful, please keep in mind that this is a simplified explanation of a potentially complex legal matter. For a more in-depth determination of your specific situation, contact Westlake Legal Group today to schedule your personal consultation.
March 1, 2012Posted by on
The purpose of this post is to inform Loudoun County residents of their ability to file a civilian complaint against any deputy or employee of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, should they find reason to do so. As a disclaimer, I have no intention of being malicious or confrontational towards the Sheriff’s department, nor do I mean to suggest that they have done anything as of late to warrant a complaint. I was simply motivated by watching the following YouTube video, in which a number of citizens are threatened, harassed, and even arrested solely because they asked how to file a complaint with their local police department.
Fortunately, Loudoun County residents should never have to worry about being subjected to such extreme treatment for filing a complaint, as the Sheriff’s Office provides an online form that allows complaints to be sent in at any time. For a link to that site, click here.
If you are a resident of any other county in Virginia, or if you would like assistance in filling out a complaint, please feel free to leave a message at the bottom of this post and we will do our best to provide you with further information.
February 17, 2012Posted by on
In Virginia, the initial spousal support award, both temporary and permanent in nature, is awarded in accordance with Virginia Code Sections 20-103 and 20-107.1. If someone is granted a divorce based on the fault ground of adultery, the adulterous spouse will normally not be awarded spousal support. The Court considers the following factors when deciding whether to award spousal support and the amount of such award:
1. The earning capacity, obligations, needs and financial resources of the parties, including, but not limited to, income from all pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, of whatever nature;
2. The education and training of the parties and the ability and opportunity of the parties to secure such education and training;
3. The standard of living established during the marriage;
4. The duration of the marriage;
5. The age and physical and mental condition of the parties;
6. The contributions, monetary and non-monetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
7. The property interest of the parties, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
8. The provisions made with regard to the marital property; and
9. Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.
For more information about divorce in the Commonwealth, check out our other blog posts on the topic or feel free call Westlake Legal to schedule your in-person consultation.
January 19, 2012Posted by on
As was reported in this week’s edition of the Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Lorranie Nordlund found that a defendant who pleaded guilty to a reduced traffic charge could have the more serious criminal charge expunged. This ruling sets a new precedent with respect to expungement by adopting a broader interpretation of Virginia Code § 19.2-392.2, which governs such actions, than courts have been willing to do in the past.
According to the statue, an individual can have their criminal and/or police records expunged if they are acquitted of a crime, if a nolle prosequi it taken, or if the charge is “otherwise dismissed.” Applying this statue to a case where the defendant was charged with reckless driving (a criminal misdemeanor) but plead guilty to an amended charge of improper driving (a traffic offense), Judge Nordlund found that the reckless driving charge had been “otherwise dismissed” and was, therefore, able to be expunged.
While it may seem insignificant to some, Judge Nordlund’s decision could prove influential in that it opens the door for untold numbers of Virginians who have previously not sought expungement to now do so. With this case, Judge Nordlund has laid the foundation for the same argument to be made in any case in which a defendant pleads guilty to a charge that is not a lesser included offense of what they were originally charged with.
As an example, consider a scenario in which a person is charged with reckless driving, but then takes advantage of a plea bargain and pleads guilty to improper driving. In this case, since improper driving is not a less included offense of reckless driving, the argument could be made that they are entitled to an expungement of their record.
If you or someone you know has a charge on their criminal record that they would like expunged, please feel free to contact Westlake Legal Group to discuss the various options available.
January 4, 2012Posted by on
A popular question asked during divorce matters is “How is child support determined?” Since the answer to this question is often very important, not only for the parties involved in the divorce but for their children as well, it is important to understand the process of child support determination prior to filing for divorce.
As a matter of principle, every parent has a duty to support their children. To this end,both parties are responsible for child support and support is initially determined by application of Virginia Code § 20-108.2, the state guidelines for child support. Each parent is expected to pay a pro rata (proportional) share of the child support which is calculated based on the gross incomes of the parents, the costs of daycare, cost of health insurance, and costs of extraordinary medical expenses. Courts can deviate from the guidelines after first determining the guideline amount and making a determination of a need for deviation in order to correct what is perceived as a manifest injustice.
Virginia Code Section 20-108.1 allows for deviation from the guidelines based on the following factors:
1. Actual monetary support for other children or family members;
2. Arrangements regarding custody of children;
3. Imputed income to a party who is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed except income may not be imputed to custodial parent when child is not in school, child care services are not available and the cost of such child care services are not included in the calculation;
4. Debts of either party arising during the marriage for the benefit of the child;
5. Debts incurred for the production of income;
6. Direct payments ordered by the court for health care coverage;
7. Extraordinary capital gains;
8. Age, physical and mental condition of the child;
9. Independent financial resources of the child;
10. Standard of living established during the marriage;
11. Earning capacity, obligations and needs, and financial resources of each parent;
12. Education and training of the parties;
13. Contributions (non-monetary and monetary) to the well-being of the family;
14. Provisions with regard to marital property;
15. Tax consequences to the parties regarding claims for dependent children and child care expenses;
16. Written agreement between the parties as to amount of child support;
17. Agreed pendente lite decree (temporary support); and
18. Other relevant factors.
Child support is owed to any unemancipated child who is a full time high school student who has not reached the age of 19. Support is not awardable beyond the child’s 18th birthday or high school graduation, whichever is later. Further, parents cannot be forced to pay for college expenses unless agreed to in writing by the parties.
December 30, 2011Posted by on
There are four main grounds for divorce in Virginia. These are identified in Virginia Code § 20-91. The first three are usually considered “fault” grounds and the last is considered a “no-fault” ground for divorce.
The four grounds for divorce in Virginia are as follows:
1) Adultery or sodomy and buggery outside the marriage
2) When one party had been convicted of a felony and confined in prison for more than one year
3) Cruelty, causing reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion or abandonment
4) Having lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year.
Adultery is the act of having sexual relations with someone other than your spouse. Most importantly, in order to qualify as a grounds for divorce, the adulterous conduct by one of the parties must be the reason for the disintegration of the marriage. There have been many defenses that attempt to show disintegration prior to an adulterous act. In some states, you are free to have relations after you separate. InVirginia, it is considered adultery to have sexual relations with another at any time while you are married. This is an important distinction. There is no statutory waiting period for divorces based on adultery.
Interestingly enough, adultery is a misdemeanor in Virginia. As a result, you must prove adultery by “clear and convincing” evidence. You do not need to catch your spouse “in the act.” It is sufficient to establish time and opportunity of circumstance, as well as an inclination to act. However, one needs an independent witness even if your spouse admits his or her infidelity.
When confronted with adultery, one may want to address issues with a counselor and decide whether one is capable of resurrecting the marriage. One also needs to decide if it is worthwhile to pursue the divorce on these grounds from an emotional as well as financial perspective.
2. Felony Conviction
Felony conviction is a grounds for divorce in Virginia when your spouse is convicted of felony during marriage for which he/she is sentenced to more than l year in jail and cohabitation with your spouse is not resumed after knowledge of the confinement.
3. Desertion and Cruelty
Desertion occurs when one spouse leaves the marital home and such leaving is not agreed upon by the remaining spouse. The party leaving must also desire the separation to be permanent. A cooling off period is not desertion, nor is a trip or a separate vacation. If both parties agree to a separation, one does not have grounds for desertion. If one alleges desertion, the alleging party must show that the leaving spouse intended the separation to be permanent and that his or her leaving was not condoned in any way by the one who remains. There is a one year statutory waiting period for divorce based on desertion. Once a divorce action is filed, it is not desertion to leave the marital home.
Desertion requires the concept of “clean hands.” Although a gradual breakdown in a martial relationship is not a legal justification for leaving, the person remaining must show that he or she did nothing to cause the other to leave. This does not mean that one cannot leave, only that he or she should be sure they can justify leaving.
Cruelty is one form of justification of leaving. It usually requires some form of physical violence or reasonable apprehension of bodily harm. Harm can be both physical and emotional. Usually one act does not trigger an ability to get a divorce based on cruelty. For one act to qualify, the act must be so bad that any reasonable person would be shocked upon hearing of it. Unfortunately, a slap does not usually reach this level of shock, but repeated slapping does. Thus, minor instances which are repeated can qualify as grounds for a divorce based on cruelty.
The Court can find that a cruel spouse is guilty of “constructive desertion” when that spouse’s acts cause the other spouse to leave the marital home to escape further acts of cruelty. The standard of proof for desertion and cruelty is a “preponderance of the evidence.”
4. Separate and Apart
On the application of either party if and when the husband and wife have lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year. In any case where the parties have entered into a separation agreement and there are no minor children either born of the parties, born of either party and adopted by the other or adopted by both parties, a divorce may be decreed on application if and when the husband and wife have lived separately and apart without cohabitation and without interruption for six months. A plea of res adjudicata or of recrimination with respect to any other provision of this section shall not be a bar to either party obtaining a divorce on this ground; nor shall it be a bar that either party has been adjudged insane, either before or after such separation has commenced, but at the expiration of one year or six months, whichever is applicable, from the commencement of such separation, the grounds for divorce shall be deemed to be complete, and the committee of the insane defendant, if there be one, shall be made a party to the cause, or if there be no committee, then the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the insane defendant.
If you feel that filing for Divorce under one of these four grounds is appropriate to your particular situation, don’t hesitate to contact Westlake Legal to schedule a consultation. Our attorneys have over 20 years of combined experience handling a wide variety of divorce issues.
November 10, 2011Posted by on
As was reported this week by Virginia Lawyers Weekly, widespread complaints about “speed traps” have sparked a heated debate between legislators over the division of funds generated by traffic fines in the Commonwealth. Under the current system, local governments have the ability to pass their own traffic laws, as well as to set fines and punishments for the violation of these laws. Though these local laws often parallel or mirror Virginia state statutes, the key difference between the two is one of financial allocation. In cases where the driver is charged with a violation of the state statute, the monies generated in court are allocated to the state. These funds assist with teacher’s retirement funds and school construction, among other things. Considering that thousands of tickets are handed out in Virginia each weekend, the total revenue generated can easily creep into the tens of millions of dollars.
Conversely, if the offending driver is charged under the local version of the law–an option that is up to the discretion of the officer–the funds generated are given to the local government to dispose of as it pleases. Local government officials contend that the funds are still primarily put towards improving education and to funding other local necessities, which helps to keep local real estate and property taxes from rising. However, many argue that allowing officers to charge drivers under the local ordinance ultimately disadvantages citizens because the practice creates an incentive for police departments to set up “speed traps” as a means generating revenue for the locality.
From a legal standpoint though, this debate raises some very interesting questions. Primary among them is the issue of what is best for the client: being charged under the state statute or the local ordinance? On the one hand, advocating for the removal of the local ordinance option (and using state statutes only) would seem beneficial to all in that it would remove the incentive for localities to over-use “speed traps.” Such a move would have the potential to drastically reduce the number of tickets issued in the Commonwealth and to save drivers millions in court costs and fines each year.
On the other hand, a closer, more pragmatic look at the systems reveals that the local ordinance option actually has some significant benefits to Virginia drivers. Chief among these advantages is that while local versions of state statutes can assess fines for traffic violations, the D.M.V. does not assign points to a driver’s record for the violation of local ordinances. To a number of Virginia drivers, this is a much appreciated alternative, since they can simply pay the fine and put the incident behind them without having to worry about accruing points.
While I can see the merit of both sides of this argument, I am very curious to see how the rest of Virginia feels on this issue. Would you prefer to oppose the ordinance option in hopes of reducing “speed traps”, or would you prefer to still have the option of avoiding points if you are charged? The attorneys at Westlake Legal would love to know!
October 20, 2011Posted by on
When you hear the phrase “service to your country,” what comes to mind? While I have never studied it, I would be willing to bet that the average American comes up with a fairly standard list of professions and actions that meet this criteria. Sparked by this familiar phrase, the mind quickly conjures up images of soldiers, firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and civil servants. One type of service that constantly fails to make the cut is serving on a jury. It seems that despite all the high school civics lectures we sat through concerning the importance of civic responsibilities, a growing portion of Americans no longer feel that a notice to report for jury duty requires the same strict compliance as it once did.
Apparently, this is exactly what happened last week in Franklin and Southampton counties, where some 40 people received their notices and either didn’t appear or failed to return a questionnaire.
According to the Tidewater News, Circuit Court Judge Rodham H. Delk Jr. did not approve of these absences and took action to do something about them. He scheduled show cause hearings for every single one of these potential jurors this past Friday. While Circuit Court Clerk Rick Francis said the judge didn’t intend to throw anyone in jail, Delk did have the option of finding them in contempt of court, among other penalties.
So let this be a lesson to all of us in the Commonwealth–when you are asked to report for jury duty, it is in your best interest to at least respond. After all, if you fail to appear, you might still end up spending a day in court, only for a much less pleasant reason.
October 3, 2011Posted by on
If you are a Virginia resident who regularly commutes to D.C. or Maryland, this post is for you. According to a recent Washington Post report, the State of Maryland has raised the stakes when it comes to texting while driving. In accordance new legislation, the act of reading or sending a text message while driving now constitutes a primary offense, thereby giving police officers the ability to pull over anyone caught texting at the wheel.
Though texting while driving is currently a secondary offense in the Commonwealth, it is important for Virginia drivers to realize that other states do not take the same stance on the issue. In fact, 31 states and D.C. now consider the act of texting behind the wheel a primary offense worthy of a traffic stop and a hefty fine. Given this discrepancy, it is important for VA drivers to keep their phones in their pockets if they want to keep their cash in their wallets after crossing state lines.