What is a “Separation Agreement"?
What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?
How is the amount of child support calculated?
How does the court decide which parent gets custody of a child?
At The Jefferson Law Firm, we believe that the keys to effective representation in family law matters are trust and communication. Domestic cases involve a transition through painful emotional issues and accusations. If you are involved in or confronting a family law issue it is important that you take steps to protect yourself and understand the legal and financial implications of your decisions. We offer complimentary initial consultations to assist you in your efforts to make informed decisions during trying times.
What is a “Separation Agreement”
In Virginia, state law governs domestic cases involving divorce, child custody & support, and alimony. In a divorce, issues such as property division, child support and child custody can be agreed upon by the parties in a Separation Agreement. Frequently, our attorneys assist clients in negotiating these agreements, thereby avoiding the expense and emotional cost of litigation.
A “Separation Agreement” or “Property Settlement Agreement” is a legal document that resolves property and custody issues associated with the marital relationship. Property Settlement agreements are required by law if the parties are seeking a divorce and have been separated less than one year. This document reflects the agreements reached by the parties on issues ranging from bank accounts to retirement plans. In some cases, “Property Settlement Agreements” provide a stable bridge towards the amicable resolution of the marriage and a final divorce.
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Grounds for Divorce:
By statute, Virginia recognizes five (5) primary grounds for divorce:; (1) adultery (2) conviction of a felony resulting in a prison sentence (3) cruelty [repeated physical abuse] (4) desertion (5) living apart [no cohabitation for one year or six months, if you have no children and a Separation Agreement has been signed]
While courts allow suits for divorce to proceed on each of these grounds, a divorce is not granted until one of the above grounds is proved to the court. In uncontested matters, a deposition (out of court hearing conducted under oath) which is attended by the moving party and a witness can be utilized to fulfill this requirement. In contested matters your case will likely be tried in court and a judge will hear evidence and resolve property and child custody issues.
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Child Support Calculations:
In Virginia child support guidelines provide a formula for calculating child support based on a proportion of each parents income. These guidelines are applied unless a party can show that the application of the support amount would be unjust or inappropriate. A child support order is a flexible instrument, thus either parent can petition the court to increase or decrease the figure if circumstances (ie. employment, salary, custody) change.
The court will take the following factors into consideration when deciding the issue of support:
• Work related child care
• Medical expenses
• Educational expenses
• Number of children in each household
• Child support orders involving other dependants
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Child Custody in Virginia:
Disputes regarding child custody are resolved by the courts by applying the “best interests” rule. The court hears a wide range of evidence about the parent’s abilities and the child’s needs before deciding what is in the “best interests of the child.” Among other things, the courts place an emphasis on stability and a parent’s ability to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent.
Pursuant to section 20-124.3 of the Virginia Code, the court must also consider the following factors in a custody dispute.
• The child’s age and developmental needs
• The role each parent has played in the upbringing and care of the child
• The reasonable preference of the child (depending on the age and maturity level of the child)
• The age and physical and mental condition of each parent
In addition to these factors our experiences in Virginia courts have shown us that judges pay particular attention to these criteria as well:
• Possession of former family home
• New romantic relationships
• The child’s academic performance while with each parent
• Flexibility of a particular parent’s work schedule
• Parental contact and involvement in the child’s school
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