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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Miscellaneous"

Top 10 Civil Justice Stories for the Year 2017: Part Two

Civil justice cases grabbed huge headlines in 2017, proving the value of the civil justice system in improving United States health and safety. The largest product recall in automotive history was issued this year as a result of civil justice lawsuits over dangerous Takata airbags, there were multiple dangerous product or medical device jury verdicts returned against companies like Johnson & Johnson for damages in excess of $100 million, and social media outrage fueled a sizable confidential injury settlement for a passenger forcibly removed from a flight.

As in years past attorney-author Rick Shapiro has researched the various news stories, jury verdicts, and legislative actions to compile his top-10 list of civil justice stories for 2017.

This is part 2 of a series; here is where you can find part 1.

No. 5 – Jury Awards $247 Million in Damages to DePuy Pinnacle Hip Implant Patients

Why It’s BiWestlake Legal Group top-10-civil-justice-stories-for-the-year-2017-part-two Top 10 Civil Justice Stories for the Year 2017: Part Two Miscellaneous   g
Large verdicts against DePuy hip implant manufacturers are going to become the norm rather than an outlier, as the 2017 jury verdicts were for defective Pinnacle hip implants. For example, the number of lawsuits alleging Johnson & Johnson and DePuy distributed defective metal-on-metal hip implants has increased by more than 13 percent in 2017, and these J & J implants, recalled in 2014, were supposedly newly improved over the ASR line of implants recalled in 2010.

What Did We Learn?
The panel awarded a total of $79 million in actual damages and $168 million in punitive damages against J & J to a group of six New York residents whose hips had to be surgically removed as a result of the defective Pinnacle hip implant devices. Another jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $502 million to a group of five patients who accused the company of hiding defects in the hips. The Pinnacle devices weren’t covered by J&J’s $2.5 billion prior settlement of claims over its prior ASR line of artificial hips that J&J recalled in August 2010.

Dig Deeper
Dallas Jury Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay $247 Million to Hip Implant Patients (The Dallas Morning News)

No. 4 – Congress Attempts To Weaken Civil Justice System

Why It’s Big
For decades, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests have lobbied members of Congress to enact sweeping tort law reform and other laws that would effectively limit or deny individuals’ fair access to the civil justice system. It appears the current House of Representatives is now working steadily to try and enact various civil justice limitations.

What Did We Learn?
The U.S. House of Representatives is working to pass a series of bills that will weaken rights to utilize the civil justice system, which often seek to hold corporations and negligent individuals accountable. For example, the House passed “The Innocent Party Protection Act” which would shift some claims to the federal system from state courts, where big companies believe they may have advantages. In addition, the House passed “The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act” which would permit class action lawsuits to proceed in federal court only if every person in the class had “an injury of the same type and scope.” Another proposal would limit monetary awards in medical malpractice suits to $250,000 for noneconomic damages, which would include all kinds and types of pain and suffering. Currently, there is no federal law purporting to place limits on medical malpractice claims.  You may note that these House bills have titles mentioning ‘fairness,’ ‘innocence’ and ‘protections,’ but the unifying theme is protection of major corporation profits, and the forfeiting of middle class rights for no good reason.

Dig Deeper
House GOP Quietly Advances Key Elements of Tort Reform (Washington Post)

No. 3 – Supreme Court Sides With Railroad Companies Over Injured Railroad Workers On Where Suits Can Be Filed

Why It’s Big
For a century, courts across the country agreed that railroads could be sued where they did business, typically including where their tracks ran.  But long standing precedent gives way to corporate protectionism in the new world order of the Roberts Court, in a civil case that affects not only suits against railroads, but all suits against corporations.

What Did We Learn?
The United States Supreme Court effectively upended a century of railroad/Federal Employers Liability Act precedent allowing a suit in a jurisdiction where any railroad “did business.” In BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, the court announced that corporations, whether railroads or otherwise, can usually be sued only in the following locations:

  • the state where incorporated;
  • the state where they have a principal place of business; and
  • any state where the company does business, if the suit’s claims are related to the company’s business there.

Dig Deeper
U.S. Supreme Court Tyrrell Decision Impacts Virginia Cases against CSX and Norfolk Southern

BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell (Harvard Law Review)

No. 2 – Class Action Lawsuit by Women Against Sexual Predator Harvey Weinstein

Why It’s Big
We are in the midst of a monumental shift in our society concerning how allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct are handled in the workplace and elsewhere. This story highlights how the “me too” victims of sexual assault and harassment are not only bringing their stories to light in the press, but are taking legal action, both civilly and criminally, to hold sexual predators accountable.

What Did We Learn?
Sexual power predatory conduct is now under a spotlight, and 2017 was a transcendent year for standing up to predators.  “Weinstein’s widespread sexual misconduct did not occur without the help of others,” the suit states. “Rather, over time, Weinstein enlisted the aid of other firms and individuals to facilitate and conceal his pattern of unwanted sexual conduct. This coalition of firms and individuals became part of the growing ‘Weinstein Sexual Enterprise,’ a RICO enterprise,” according to the suit.

The 14-count civil action, brought by six women who seek class action certification, include witness tampering, mail and wire fraud, assault, civil battery, negligent supervision and retention and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs sued Miramax, and current and former board members of Weinstein Co.

Dig Deeper
Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein Co. Face Class-Action Racketeering Lawsuit over Sexual Harassment (Variety)

No. 1 – Takata Faulty Air Bag Recall

Why It’s BigWestlake Legal Group top-10-civil-justice-stories-for-the-year-2017-part-two-1 Top 10 Civil Justice Stories for the Year 2017: Part Two Miscellaneous
This was the largest automotive safety product recall in United States history effecting millions of motorists across the country. We all drive cars, and when cars have hidden dangers that can randomly kill drivers, we pay attention.

What Did We Learn?
The company’s faulty airbag inflators have blasted shrapnel into drivers and passengers, even slicing the carotid artery, resulting in the recall of tens of millions of vehicles. 11 deaths in the U.S. and several others elsewhere have been linked to Takata faulty airbags. Takata admitted to withholding key information for years, even after its airbags started exploding in people’s cars. It pleaded guilty in the U.S. to a criminal charge of wire fraud,  and must pay $1 billion, including a $125 million fund for victims and their families.

Dig Deeper
Takata, brought Down by Airbag Crisis, Files for Bankruptcy (CNN)


Contact us at: Westlake Legal Group Your Northern Virginia Full Service Law Firm. Call (703) 406-7616 or click here for our website: https://westlakelegal.com/

Top 10 Civil Justice Stories for the Year 2017: Part One

Civil justice cases grabbed huge headlines in 2017, proving the value of the civil justice system in improving United States health and safety. The largest product recall in automotive history was issued this year as a result of civil justice lawsuits over dangerous Takata airbags, there were multiple dangerous product or medical device jury verdicts returned against companies like Johnson & Johnson for damages in excess of $100 million, and social media outrage fueled a sizable confidential injury settlement for a passenger forcibly removed from a flight.

As in years past attorney-author Rick Shapiro has researched the various news stories, jury verdicts, and legislative actions to compile his top-10 list of civil justice stories for 2017.

Note that this is part 1 of two-part series; part 2 can be found here.

No. 10 – Congress Votes to Lift Restrictions, and Allow Mandatory Arbitration Clauses

Why It’s Big
This qualifies as a civil injustice story. According to the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “in suits at common law…the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.” Mandatory arbitration is an end run around the Seventh Amendment and is a means of weakening access to the civil justice system, and trial by jury, if a consumer seeks to hold a corporation accountable for reckless or nefarious conduct.  Companies desire arbitration because results prove that arbitration tends to tilt the scales towards the company and away from the consumer.

What Did We Learn?
The GOP-controlled Senate voted to eliminate a landmark financial regulation that restricts banks and credit card companies from imposing written mandatory arbitration agreements on their customers as a means to resolve disputes.  These arbitration clauses are buried in the pages of fine print and there is no consumer bargaining power of opting out of arbitration. The Senate had to bring in Vice President Mike Pence to be the tie-breaking vote. Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association and the Financial Services Roundtable all opposed the regulation (which prohibited such mandatory arbitration clauses) and lobbied Congress to eliminate it legislatively.  The big companies won, meaning they got back the right to require mandatory arbitration agreements buried in the fine print.  “The vice president only shows up [in the Senate] when the rich and the powerful need him,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said.

Dig Deeper
Pence Breaks Tie in Senate Vote to Ax Arbitration Rule (Politico)

No. 9 – The Shocking Link between Asbestos and Talcum Powders  

Westlake Legal Group top-10-civil-justice-stories-for-the-year-2017-part-one Top 10 Civil Justice Stories for the Year 2017: Part One Miscellaneous   Why It’s Big
When lawsuits are filed against large corporations, it is quite common to discover shocking details about the internal practices and studies conducted on popular consumer products during the pre-trial discovery process. The talcum powder ovarian cancer litigation against Johnson & Johnson is a prime example. During a deposition of a chemist who took part in research for J & J, it was revealed that many J & J talc baby powder products he tested were adulterated with asbestos.  Despite this, J & J contended its baby powder was safe as the driven snow, and still contends this to this day.  Could mothers who used J & J baby powder on their babies have unwittingly caused one of the most dangerous carcinogens to be inhaled by their babies and themselves for decades?

What Did We Learn?
In December 2016, a chemist described having done testing in the 1970’s of various Johnson & Johnson baby powder products, which confirmed asbestos had adulterated talc baby powder in about 50 percent of the powders he tested.  This was at a time that the FDA was considering regulating cosmetic talc products, but J & J and other consumer products companies selling cosmetic powders with talc assured the FDA that it had refined its mining methods to eliminate all asbestos, and, in the end, the FDA never regulated the cosmetic talc powder products for asbestos.  In other words, consumers since the 70s, buying talcum baby powder products, had to trust these companies not to be selling a product adulterated by asbestos.  In current suits around the U.S., attorneys claim that baby powder is a cause of ovarian cancers, and the bombshell evidence of asbestos adulteration will be explored in upcoming jury trials.

Dig Deeper
Is Asbestos in Talcum Baby Powder the ‘Crime of the Century’? (The Legal Examiner)

Johnson & Johnson Alerted to Risk of Asbestos in Talc in ’70s, Files Show (Chicago Tribune)


No. 8 – Passenger Assaulted by Airline Officers Settles with United

Why It’s Big
This incident highlighted the tremendous power of social media in today’s society. The video of Dr. David Dao being dragged from his seat and off a United Airlines plane after refusing to give up his seat to an airline crew member instantly went viral and made national headlines. As a result, United took swift action by offering a sizable (confidential) settlement and publicly apologizing for the conduct of their employees and their practices.

What Did We Learn?
First, we learned the power of viral video on social media.  Ultimately, months later Dao reached an “amicable settlement” with the airline for the personal injuries he received as result of the April 9 incident, which his attorney said included two lost teeth, a broken nose and a “significant” concussion. The amount of the settlement would remain undisclosed, according to the terms of the settlement, Dao’s attorney said. Rumors have swirled about the total amount of the settlement. There have been tweets alleging Dr. Dao obtained millions from United, but these claims are completely unsubstantiated.

Dig Deeper
David Dao and United Airlines Reach ‘Amicable’ Settlement After Viral Video Incident (NBC News)

In China, rumors are flying about David Dao’s alleged $140 million settlement from United Airlines (Washington Post)


No. 7 – Nearly 1.5 Million Additional Fake Accounts “Discovered” by Wells Fargo

Westlake Legal Group top-10-civil-justice-stories-for-the-year-2017-part-one-1 Top 10 Civil Justice Stories for the Year 2017: Part One Miscellaneous   Why It’s Big
The level of corporate malfeasance and deception committed by Wells Fargo executives is staggering. This disturbing story of fake accounts being created and then assessed fees appears to be getting worse.

What Did We Learn?
Wells Fargo “uncovered” an additional 1.4 million more fake accounts after digging deeper into the bank’s broken sales culture. That means there were approximately 3.5 million potentially fake bank and credit card accounts that were created and charged fees in an effort to gin up profits for this financial behemoth. Wells Fargo has agreed to pay a total of $6.1 million to refund customers for unauthorized bank and credit card accounts, up from $3.3 million previously. The bank also promised to pay $910,000 to refund customers for the 528,000 potentially improper online bill pay enrollments. The review of online bill pay was required by the September 2016 settlement. Additionally, Wells Fargo has agreed to a $142 million national class action settlement to cover fake accounts that were opened going back to 2002. That settlement received preliminary approval from a federal judge in July 2017.  Oh, have you seen the “feel good” T.V. commercials about Wells Fargo?  They seem like a disconnect from the devious honchos that dreamed up the unrequested, fake money-making accounts.  Oh, and there’s more:  another suit claims Wells Fargo targeted mom and pop size businesses with massive early termination fees if the business tried to get out of the credit card merchant services it supplied.

Dig Deeper
Wells Fargo Uncovers up to 1.4 Million More Fake Accounts (CNN Money)

Wells Fargo Accused of Ripping Off Mom-and-Pop Shops (CNN Money)


No. 6 – Bayer AG and J & J Ordered to Pay $28 Million to Plaintiffs in Bellwether Xarelto Case

Why It’s Big
This bellwether trial marks the first plaintiff’s victory in the Xarelto litigation.

What Did We Learn?
A jury in Philadelphia state court found in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson to pay $27.8 million to a couple over the failure to warn of significant internal bleeding risks from the blood thinner Xarelto.  While Xarelto has some distinct advantages over other blood thinners, it also carries a highly dangerous side effect in some patients: a potentially fatal uncontrolled bleeding risk.  “It’s a clinically significant adverse event, it’s a demographic characteristic and it should be on the label,” said Dr. David Kessler, who served as FDA commissioner under the first Bush and the Clinton administrations in his testimony at the trial. The jury slapped the companies, which jointly developed the drug, with $1.8 million in compensatory and $26 million in punitive damages.

Dig Deeper
Jury Orders Bayer, J&J to Pay $28 Million in Xarelto Lawsuit (Reuters)

Remember that we’ll continue this list on Friday 12/29 — as well as include a backlink here once posted!

Contact us at: Westlake Legal Group Your Northern Virginia Full Service Law Firm. Call (703) 406-7616 or click here for our website: https://westlakelegal.com/

A Comprehensive Guide to Virginia Child Support

By | May 30, 2017

Westlake Legal Group a-comprehensive-guide-to-virginia-child-support A Comprehensive Guide to Virginia Child Support Miscellaneous child support guidelines child support calculation child support

This is a Comprehensive Guide to Virginia Child Support

What are the laws on child support in Virginia? It’s a straightforward question, but one that requires a comprehensive discussion. This guide on Virginia child support laws lays out the most common issues, questions and answers about child support in our Commonwealth. Before we begin, there are a few important things.  Feel free to peruse the Topics Section of my blog to read about other child support related issues.

We wrote this comprehensive guide for one reason – for fathers and mothers who have questions and need a place to start before they consult with an experienced Northern Virginia Family Law Attorney.

What I have written here is neither legal advice nor a substitute for legal advice. Once you have read this, it may be time for you to get advice regarding your specific child support matter. My firm primarily handles child support matters in Northern Virginia, including counties such as Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington, and Alexandria.

Below is a list of topics this guide will cover. Feel free to scroll to any topic you wish, but many clients find it useful to read the entire guide. If you are about to embark on a child support case, whether you are the party asking for support or the party being asked to pay support, the time you spend reading this guide will be worthwhile.

I will cite to Virginia statutes throughout this page. Sometimes I will quote them and you will know that because I will use quotes. More often, however, I will just summarize the parts of the code section being discussed at that time.

I cannot cover every child support topic. No guide really can. But what I can do (and have done) is offer you a starting point for the most common issues and questions.  This Virginia child support guide is comprehensive.

  • The purpose and intent of Virginia child support laws.
  • Relationship between child support and parenting time.
  • At what age do Virginia child support payments stop?
  • Guideline child support orders.
  • Virginia child support add-ons.
  • How do you start the child support process?
  • Retroactivity and how far back does child support go?
  • Modification of Virginia child support orders.
  • How is income determined for child support purposes?
  • Special issues in child support cases.
  • How are child support payments made?
  • Child support arrears, interest and enforcement

Westlake Legal Group a-comprehensive-guide-to-virginia-child-support-1 A Comprehensive Guide to Virginia Child Support Miscellaneous child support guidelines child support calculation child support

Virginia child support laws – what is their purpose and intent?

Virginia’s child support laws are contained primarily in Virginia Code Sections 20-107.2, 20-108.1, and 20-108.2.

 Both parents owe their child a duty of support during the child’s minority; a mother and father’s first and foremost obligation is to support their child. Fundamentally, the purpose of child support laws is to ensure each parent is fulfilling this obligation.  Child support in the Commonwealth of Virginia has evolved in recent years.  With the increasing rate of divorce and out-of-wedlock births, and rising cost of caring for children, the Commonwealth has worked hard to systematize the support process.  An important step in this regard was the creation of child support guidelines.  Virginia offers child support guidelines to assist parents in determining the appropriate amount of their support obligation.  Northern Virginia is an expensive part of the county and the child support guidelines reflect that.  A child should share in the standard of living of both parents.  Child support payments may improve the standard of living of a custodial parent as well and reduce (to a degree) the disparity between each parent’s respective household.

As you may have already surmised, though the obligation is mutual, there is no presumption that each parent contribute equally to the support of a child. Ability to pay, each parent’s income, and time with the child tend to be the primarily drivers of the support calculation. Virginia law presumes the parent who has primary physical custody of the child already contributes a significant part of his or her resources for the child. This presumption, however, can be rebutted.

What are some common issues in determining child support?

While Virginia child support laws are designed to speed up and streamline the process, four issues can often get in the way.

  1. Parents who frustrate or interfere with the other parent’s time with the children:This takes place when parents attempt to “game the system” and is sometimes referred to as “parental gatekeeping.” Over time, systematically isolating the children from one parent may lead to parental alienation. A parent may adopt this strategy to artificially increase his or her time with the child and increase child support.
  2. Parents who have little interest in spending quality time with their children, but still seek parenting time they do not want or cannot handle:  This takes place when parents demand additional time with their children, not because they believe it is best for their children, but because they want to decrease their child support obligation or manipulate other negotiations.
  3. Parents who refuse to become gainfully employed when they have the earning capacity, ability and opportunity: This takes place when a parent fails to recognize that the obligation to financially support a child is mutual. Some parents mistakenly believe that because they were voluntarily unemployed during the marriage, they may remain so after the divorce.
  4. Parents who lie about their income, often claiming it is less than what it actually is, to pay less than what Virginia child support laws require. This takes place when a parent attempts to conceal his or her income or artificially suppress it by becoming voluntarily under-employed.

It is not coincidence there are specific laws to prevent and punish these things.

Our family law firm in Fairfax County, Virginia has had success in obtaining great results for parents who have had to deal with these situations. Check out our reviews on-line.

Westlake Legal Group a-comprehensive-guide-to-virginia-child-support-2 A Comprehensive Guide to Virginia Child Support Miscellaneous child support guidelines child support calculation child support

What is the relationship between Virginia child support laws and parenting time?

In Virginia child support laws, there is a direct correlation between parenting time (sometimes called “visitation”) and child support. Virginia essentially has two sets of child support guidelines. The Virginia Sole Custody Child Support Guideline is used to calculate child support when one parent has less than 90 days of visitation per year. For calculation purposes a “day” is a full 24-hour period. An overnight may count has a half-day if you are the parent with fewer days during the year. The Virginia Sole Custody Child Support Guideline makes no distinction between a parent who sees his or her child 1 day a year and a parent who sees his or her child 89 days a year: both parents pay the same. The Virginia Shared Custody Child Support Guideline is used to calculate child support when one parent has 90 days or more of visitation per year. The Virginia Shared Custody Child Support Guideline discounts child support for each day a parent has his or her child over 90. A parent pays progressively less child support as he or she has more days with the child.

This is good and bad. It is good, because, as you might expect, a parent who has more time with the child should also have greater need for child support.  It is bad, because the connection between parenting time and child support gives strategic parents incentive to negotiate parenting time not by what is best for the child, but instead by what yields the most favorable child support outcome.

At what age do Virginia child support payments stop?

Virginia Child Support is typically payable until a child reaches the age of 18 years, though support will continue to be paid for any child over the age of 18 who is (i) a full-time high school student, (ii) not self-supporting, and (iii) living in the home of the party seeking or receiving child support until such child reaches the age of 19 or graduates from high school, whichever first occurs.

Parents can agree to support a child beyond 19 by agreement. For example, some parents may extend support to child until the child attains the age of 22 years if the child is pursuing a reasonably continuous course of college education leading to an undergraduate degree and is matriculating as a full-time or substantially full-time student at an accredited college or university, and living full-time or substantially full-time in the residence of one parent.

Guideline Virginia Child Support Orders

From a practical perspective, guideline child support is what the computer program VADER tells the judge child support should be. That, of course, assumes the correct information is inputted into the program.

Does the Family Court have to follow Virginia’s child support guideline?

Not in every case, but there must be a proper, legal reason to deviate from it. Virginia Courts cannot simply fail to order the guideline child support amount for reasons not permitted by law. That is because the guideline child support number is presumptively deemed to be correct.

This presumption of correctness can be rebutted up or down. The Court needs to have admissible evidence that shows the guideline formula would be unjust or inappropriate in the case. What can the Court consider?  It can consider the factors listed in Virginia Code 20-108.1.  We have listed them here.

  1. Actual monetary support for other family members or former family members;
  2. Arrangements regarding custody of the children, including the cost of visitation travel;
  3. Imputed income to a party who is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily under-employed; provided that income may not be imputed to a custodial parent when a child is not in school, child care services are not available and the cost of such child care services are not included in the computation and provided further, that any consideration of imputed income based on a change in a party’s employment shall be evaluated with consideration of the good faith and reasonableness of employment decisions made by the party, including to attend and complete an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;
  4. Any child care costs incurred on behalf of the child or children due to the attendance of a custodial parent in an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;
  5. Debts of either party arising during the marriage for the benefit of the child;
  6. Direct payments ordered by the court for maintaining life insurance coverage pursuant to subsection D, education expenses, or other court-ordered direct payments for the benefit of the child;
  7. Extraordinary capital gains such as capital gains resulting from the sale of the marital abode;
  8. Any special needs of a child resulting from any physical, emotional, or medical condition;
  9. Independent financial resources of the child or children;
  10. Standard of living for the child or children established during the marriage;
  11. Earning capacity, obligations, financial resources, and special needs of each parent;
  12. Provisions made with regard to the marital property under § 20-107.3, where said property earns income or has an income-earning potential;
  13. Tax consequences to the parties including claims for exemptions, child tax credit, and child care credit for dependent children;
  14. A written agreement, stipulation, consent order, or decree between the parties which includes the amount of child support; and
  15. Such other factors as are necessary to consider the equities for the parents and children.

The Court must state how it got to the point of deviating from the Virginia child support guideline number.

Do Virginia child support laws allow parents to agree to less or more than what the Child Support Guidelines require?

Courts will generally allow parents to voluntarily agree to pay more than the presumptive amount of the Virginia Child Support Guideline. If it is less, Courts take a more critical eye toward the agreement before they approve it.

Westlake Legal Group a-comprehensive-guide-to-virginia-child-support-3 A Comprehensive Guide to Virginia Child Support Miscellaneous child support guidelines child support calculation child support

Virginia child support calculator and how is the amount determined?

The three most important factors when calculating the Virginia child support amount are:

  1. The number of children who are entitled to support;
  2. The amount of parenting time each parent has with the children; and
  3. Each parent’s gross income. Many parents mistakenly believe the calculation uses a net, after-tax income because, after all, that is all the money they actually see deposited into their bank account. The child support guidelines, however, are meant to simplify the process and therefore they use your total gross pay before any deductions.

The above are not the only factors. They are simply the ones that have the greatest impact on the child support number.

If there is more than one child, the child support program makes an allocation of the support such that the youngest child receives the full amount of support for one child and then there is a downward adjustment for each additional child. The allocation is not important for your purposes because the computer program figures it out for you.

Virginia child support calculations will include the additional cost a parent incurs to provide health insurance for the children. The one bit of good news for parents paying health insurance is that it is a line item deduction on the child support guideline calculation. Therefore, it’s really both parents contributing toward it, because it does lower the child support obligation by the permitted amount.

Outside of the child support calculation itself, Virginia child support orders also typically contain provisions for allocating unreimbursed medical expenses between the parents. Traditionally this is done on an income pro-rata basis (e.g. if you earn twice as much as the other parent, your share of an unreimbursed medical expense will be twice as much as the other parent).  Uninsured health care costs are an area that can become heavily litigated. This is especially true when one parent claims the treatment was done without consent or was not reasonable or necessary.  Elective plastic surgery for a child is a good example of such a cost.

What about Virginia child support orders and braces?

Does that fall under uninsured medical expenses?

This is another issue that often comes up. Can one parent require the other to pay or share in the cost of braces?

If the braces were recommended by a dental care professional, that helps. If the braces are also a necessity (as opposed to only cosmetic), that helps more. Is there a specific law that specifically says braces are or are not covered under uninsured dental expenses and therefore part of a child support order? Not directly but most parents know whether the braces really are a necessity, luxury or a combination of each so the specific facts typically control this situation.

Also keep in mind that uninsured health care costs are presumed reasonable so there is at least an argument to be made the parent disputing the necessity of the braces is the one that has the burden of proof.

Child care costs as an additional child support add-on

Child care related to employment or reasonably necessary education or training for employment skills must be added to the child support calculation. Like the cost of health insurance for the children, this amount is factored into the calculation on an income pro-rata basis, meaning each party shares in this cost proportionally based on income.

Sometimes, this amount is paid directly to the other parent but it can also be paid directly to the child care provider. That may be best especially in situations where there is a reasonable question as to whether or not the parent asking for the payment is really incurring the expense. We see this in cases where a relative is the child care provider and claims a cost but that cost is really not being paid by the parenting claiming it.

Are there any discretionary child support add-ons?

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Public versus private school

Virginia child support laws give the court discretion to order private school costs to be paid

Virginia family courts may order private schooling costs (including tuition), but whether or not to do so is within the Court’s discretion. If a child has been attending private school, the chances of getting such an order are better than asking for a child to go from public to private.

Some children have special needs that require private or special schooling. In such cases, private schooling is more often granted. Of course, each parent’s ability to pay is also a factor.

Child support add on for extracurricular activities

The Court also has the discretion to order payment for extracurricular activities though such orders tend to relate to exceptional or high level activities as opposed to “run of the mill” activities. I believe a Court is more likely to order payment for activities when it believes the child’s identity or well-being is wrapped up in his or her continued participation in that activity.  High-level gymnasts, ice skaters, golfers, softball players, basketball players, football players, volleyball players, and soccer players would be good examples.  Ability to pay is again a factor.

Travel expenses

The travel costs associated with visitation is a specific factor listed in Virginia Code 20-108.1. The Court must consider those travel costs.  This sometimes occurs when a custodial parent has to travel a greater than normal distance to take the child to the noncustodial parent, but more commonly involves a noncustodial parent travelling long distances by plane or train to exercise visitation.  Having represented several parents who regularly fly across the country to exercise visitation (e.g. San Francisco to Northern Virginia, Seattle to Northern Virginia, etc.), I believe the physical toll of such travelling is more often a greater obstacle to overcome than the financial toll.

How do you start the Virginia child support process?

Westlake Legal Group a-comprehensive-guide-to-virginia-child-support-5 A Comprehensive Guide to Virginia Child Support Miscellaneous child support guidelines child support calculation child support

Initial child support request

Virginia child support actions often start with the filing of a Complaint for Divorce

 Child support actions traditionally start one of two ways (although these are not the only ways).

  1. A Complaint for Divorce is filed in Circuit Court; or
  2. A Petition for Child Support is filed in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

A Complaint for Divorce need only state that child support is an issue. The parties can then either pursue child support on a temporary basis (also known as a pendente lite basis) pending their final hearing or simply wait until their final hearing.

A Petition for Child Support in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is typically done by completing and filing the necessary forms in that Court. Some attorneys, however, prefer to type them out in a formal declaration to lay out the basis for the request.

If you were never married to the other parent, you must begin the child support process in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

Child support hearing

Please don’t represent yourself for your child support hearing. Virginia child support laws and procedure can get complex and quality legal representation can help you avoid an unfair result

At the child support hearing, the Family Court will review each parent’s submitted paperwork, listen to testimony under oath and decide. If there are issues and disputes regarding parenting time, income, imputation of income or other appropriate disputes regarding child support that are factually or legally supported, the Family Court will hear those and make a ruling.

Whatever the Court’s ruling, it will typically be provided verbally on the record and then memorialized in a written order. In Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, the parties will generally leave the courtroom with a child support order in hand.  In Circuit Court, one of the attorneys will typically be asked to properly draft and submit a child support order incorporating the Court’s ruling for the Judge to sign.

Retroactivity of Virginia child support orders

What does retroactive child support mean? It means the child support order isn’t just prospective (i.e. dealing with months going forward), it can and often is also retroactive (i.e. dealing with months in the past).  In other words, “retroactive” child support means at your child support hearing you could be ordered to pay an amount going forward and an additional amount for retroactive back child support for earlier months when you may not have paid.

Here is how the retroactive child support works and the rules about it.

The first child support order is typically, though not always, the temporary one. That first, temporary order can be made retroactive to the date the Petition for Child Support or Complaint for Divorce was filed.  That means the start date for your child support obligation may go back to the date the petition or complaint was filed even though your hearing was many months later.

Illustration: A Complaint for Divorce is filed on March 1. The child support hearing takes place on July 1.  On July 1 the Court orders you to pay $500.00 each month going forward for child support and makes that amount retroactive to March 1, meaning you now have back child support due for the months of March, April, May, and June.

Modification of a Virginia child support order

We’ve been talking about the initial child support order. What about a modification of it?

Virginia child support laws allow for child support orders to be modified based upon a material change of circumstances. What makes a change of circumstance “material” is largely left to the judge’s discretion.  Think something significant that warrants another look at the previous calculation.  In most cases, this also means something that was not contemplated at the time of the previous order.

Here are some examples:

  1. The parenting time has changed: This typically happens when one parent’s time goes up or down, whether by agreement or a contested child custody hearing and order;
  2. Either parent’s income situation has changed: income has gone up, down or one parent has become unemployed;
  3. A parent has had another child from another relationship or remarried; or
  4. Changes have been made to the child’s needs or expenses: The most common changes are child care, medical or other health related costs, special needs have developed (including a medical diagnosis), etc.

A change in just about any of the factors that go into the child support calculation may be the basis, but be careful: if the change is not a significant one, filing a modification request may be a waste of time.  For example, if the change in income or parenting time is very small, it may not have much, if any, impact and may not be considered “material.”  Also, keep in mind that Virginia law doesn’t distinguish between the party who files the modification request or whether he or she is seeking to increase or decrease child support.  As a result, sometimes opening the door to modification leads to an unintended result.

How do you know if you are the one who wants to bring a child support modification request or are facing one? Simple. Get good legal advice. Trying to figure these types of things out on your own is usually unwise.

Modification orders are also retroactive to the date the modification request was filed.

Illustration: A current Virginia Child Support Order is in place requiring you to pay $500.00 each month. You file a Motion to Modify Child Support on May 1 seeking a reduction in support.  The hearing on your Motion to Modify takes place on August 1.  At that hearing, the Court reduces your child support obligation to $300.00 each month.  As a result, because you continued to pay $500.00 in May, June, and July, you will be entitled to a child support credit of $200.00 for each of those months.

Waiting to file a child support modification request when you are entitled to one can cause serious, negative financial consequences. Don’t fall into the procrastination trap.

 As mentioned above, if you are the parent who wants a modification of child support (especially a downward one), waiting is one of the worst things you can do. Until there is a new order, the last order remains in effect and the Court usually cannot go back before your modification request was filed and served.  That means you are stuck with the order until you change it.

Verbal agreements may not help you and are often not considered after a modification request is filed. Until you get a Court order, it is safest to assume you are not protected.

Why would anyone wait to modify child support if they can show a change of circumstance? In our opinion there is rarely, if ever, a good reason, but here are some bad ones we have heard and seen people use:

  • Life gets in the way – Work, family, providing for yourself and others hardly leaves time to think about starting a Court proceeding.
  •  Fear or anxiety – for many people, going back to Family Court (especially if previous experiences were not good ones) is the last thing they want. It’s “easier” to do nothing.
  •  For those who seek a downward modification due to a change in parenting time, you are concerned if you file the request, the other parent will start keeping the children from you. Fathers go through this all the time. They worry about “rocking the boat” so they keep paying the higher child support even if they have close to equal, equal or even primary parenting time. The parent receiving support also does this for fear of “upsetting” the paying parent.
  • A job loss can turn a parent’s financial life upside down. The unemployed parent may think it is temporary so the parent waits days, then weeks, then months and all the while that parent cannot afford to pay his or her own expenses.

A few words about appealing Virginia child support orders

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Did the judge make the wrong legal ruling or fail to consider important facts?   An appeal may be a smart option.

But what if the judge got it wrong? What do you do then?  There are several methods by which you can challenge the Family Court’s child support order.

You may have heard about filing an appeal and the ability to take your matter to a higher court. Appealing a decision of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (the lower court) to the Circuit Court (the higher court) is straight-forward and common.  Provided you file your appeal timely and properly, you will be entitled to a new hearing in Circuit Court.  You will have a second chance to make your case.

Filing an appeal from Circuit Court to the Virginia Court of Appeals is much different and quite difficult. If you are considering filing such an appeal, I highly recommend you seek out the assistance of an attorney. I would be pleased to refer you to an appeals attorney.

How is income determined for Virginia child support purposes?

Virginia child support calculations are based on your gross income. Gross income is broadly defined to include all forms of income from all sources. Almost nothing escapes this definition. It includes, among other things, wages, bonuses, commissions, investment income, social security benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability benefits, veteran’s benefits, spousal support, gifts, and awards.

Check out other articles I have written about income on this blog.

The role of tax returns when determining income for Virginia child support purposes

Tax returns and W-2s are typically presumed to be good evidence of a parent’s gross income. That presumption, however, can be rebutted in Family Court where parents fail to report (or under report) their income. In such situations, the Court may look at other evidence of income such as bank deposits, financial disclosures, loan applications, and lifestyle spending.  If you are a self-employed business owner or all-cash/barter employee, it will be particularly important for you to take a realistic look at your gross income.  If you do not present a fair and balanced approach to your income, the Court may impose its own, possibly less charitable, view.

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What are the consequences of lying to the Court about income?

First, if the person has willfully given false testimony (and that includes providing false information on the income and expense declaration), then that may be a felony in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Perjury can be reported and prosecuted. In addition, the Court could make very unfavorable presumptions about your income and it could backfire to such an extent the Family Court designates an income that is actually higher than what the person earns, even if they had told the truth from the outset. In short, losing credibility can blow up in your face.

The Court also has the power to order sanctions and attorney’s fees. If there is a lack of cooperation in the “discovery” process or other circumstances, the Court can also order sanctions that may limit your ability to pursue certain claims or present certain evidence.

What if a father or mother refuses to work or is underemployed?

This issues comes up a lot and typically takes the following form:

Parent A is facing a child support order. Parent B doesn’t work. Parent A tells the Court that Parent B is capable of working, but refuses to do so. What does the Court do?

The Family Court can consider a parent’s earning capacity instead of that parent’s actual earnings if that parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. This is called “imputing” income.  Parent A would be asking the Court to consider what Parent B should be earning as opposed to what Parent B actually earning.

It can be helpful to consider income imputation in two parts – the ability to earn an income and the opportunity to do so. Ability means the parent can actually work and doesn’t suffer from a disability, for example, that prevents him or her working. Ability can also refer to the suitability of the parent’s education, skills, and experience for a particular employment. Opportunity means there are jobs out there to be had and reasonable childcare available for the children. Makes sense right?

Imputing income must also be consistent with the children’s best interest. That may seem like a no-brainer, but there are situations where a parent has special needs children (or an infant) that make it difficult to work full-time and working full-time (or part-time) would be inconsistent with the children’s best interest.

If a parent can show the other has both the ability and opportunity to work, and imputing income would be in the children’s best interests, the Court may replace the actual earned income of a parent with what that parent should be earning.

Importantly, this is not a fault-based idea. Courts usually don’t get into why a parent is not working (except perhaps in cases where a parent was terminated from his or her former employment on fault grounds). What Courts care about is just what we have written – earning capacity through ability and opportunity.

The genesis for all of these laws comes down to one thing – Virginia child support laws are very clear that both parents have the duty to support their children and that duty cannot be placed unreasonably on only one parent.

Can a parent’s assets be considered for child support calculation?

Sometimes a Virginia family law judge can consider assets and investments 

It’s a unique situation, but the short answer is – sometimes. Where an investment generates regular income that the family then accesses for living expenses, the Court will almost assuredly consider that income.  Where one parent’s assets are underinvested or not utilized properly, the Court may, in its discretion, consider the rate of return (i.e. “interest”) that should be earned on that money.

Of course, the question that has to be asked in today’s world is what a reasonable rate of return might be? Banks are giving very little interest and the market can be volatile. CDs are not what they used to be. You can certainly invest your money in the stock market, and many do, but is it really fair for a Family Law Judge to tell you whether your risk tolerance is too low?

Special issues when dealing with Virginia child support.

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Role of new spouse income on Virginia child support

The moment an attorney or judge brings up the subject of the new spouse’s income and its role in Virginia child support, one parent will cry fair and the other parent will cry foul, depending on which parent has the new spouse and the respective income. Here is a common scenario.

Both parents have it wrong.

The new spouse’s income cannot be used to directly raise or lower support; it cannot be merely added to one parent’s income for support calculation purposes.  It can, however, be considered as a deviating factor relating to a parent’s ability to meet his, her, or the child’s reasonable living expenses.  The court could also consider a situation where a parent voluntary and intentionally quits, remains unemployed, underemployed or reduces his or her income and relies on the new spouse’s income.  Just because a parent marries into money with a new spouse, it doesn’t mean his or her previous financial obligations to the child cease.

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Virginia child support laws about bonuses, overtime and commissions

Annual gross income generally does include overtime, commissions, and bonuses. The IRS typically considers those things as income and Virginia’s definition of income is broad enough to encompass those monies and more.

Here are some common scenarios relating to overtime and bonuses:

Question: What happens if the bonus or overtime is sporadic?

Answer: It probably doesn’t matter, because when income fluctuates due to bonuses, overtime, and commissions, it’s common for a court to use an average based on previous years. Consider what sample size of previous years’ best reflects your earnings (or serves your purposes).

Question: What happens if past bonuses, overtime, or commissions are unlikely to reoccur?

Answer: Because courts want to be as all-inclusive as possible when it comes to income for child support calculation purposes, a parent claiming he or she is unlikely to receive a form of income received in past years will have to prove it. Often, that parent’s testimony is not enough. A court will want to understand why that money shouldn’t be counted on. Is overtime no longer available? Has the bonus or commission structure changed or been abandoned? It’s common for high-earning parents to claim their incomes will go down, so a court will want evidence.

Question: What happens when the employed spouse claims he or she voluntarily won’t work overtime?

Answer:  If the overtime is available and the employed spouse has a consistent history of working overtime, it may not matter whether that spouse actually continues voluntarily working overtime. A court will simply assume that parent should continue working overtime and calculate that spouse’s income as if he or she was working overtime, regardless of whether it’s happening. Courts will, however, consider situations where one spouse works a lot of hours that are not sustainable after separation, especially when custody, parenting time and taking care of the kids without the other parent come into play.

Another approach the Court can take is order a percentage of the future overtime or bonus instead of factoring that income into the monthly guideline support order. That may actually work well for both parents because the paying spouse doesn’t pay a monthly support order that is higher than what he or she can afford on a month to month basis, but the parent receiving support still gets guideline support when averaged out over a year.

What does all of this tell you? The Court has discretion on such issues and every case is driven by its own facts.

What is deducted from gross income for Virginia child support purposes?

Figuring out gross income isn’t the end of the Virginia child support process.  Next come certain deductions.

What about spousal support? Does that get deducted? The short answer is “yes.” Spousal support payments are deducted from the child support paying parent’s income and added to the child support receiving parent’s income.

Child support paid under a Court order to a different child.

The Court will consider child support payments made to “other children.” Typically, the amount of this deduction coincides with the amount the parent was ordered to pay for that child.  If no order was entered, the Court will perform a separate calculation to determine the appropriate amount of the “other child” support deduction.

What about self-employment taxes and expenses.

The child support calculation will take into consideration deductible self-employment taxes. Typically, that amount is identified on your tax return.

Courts will also permit a self-employed parent to deduct from their income reasonable and necessary business expenses. What constitutes a “reasonable and necessary” business expense is often debatable. A parent attempting to claim such reductions should come prepared to explain the nature of the expenses.

What about health insurance premiums for the other parent or the children?

The cost associated with providing health insurance for the other parent is not taken into account in the child support calculation.

The cost associated with providing health insurance for a child is taken into account. For child support calculation purposes it is important to isolate what portion of the monthly health insurance premium is attributable to the child. Typically, that can be done by identifying what the health insurance premium would be for the policy holder alone and subtracting that amount from the cost of the health insurance premium for the policy holder with the appropriate number of dependent children. Health insurance plan pricing structures often vary, so it often makes sense to get this pricing information directly from the health insurance company or policy holder’s employer.

What about work-related childcare? Work-related childcare is also factored into the Virginia child support calculation. Such childcare can take many forms, including traditional daycare, nannies, before and after-school programs, and summer camps to name just a few.  When the parents do not agree on childcare, the court will often give significant weight to the care arrangements made for the children in the past and what the parents can actually afford at the time of their hearing.

A parent who is not working cannot claim work-related child care.

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How are child support payments made in Virginia?

Most often child support payments are made directly between the parents by check delivered on the first day of each month until termination. By agreement, parents can agree to an alternative payment schedule such as splitting the child support amount and making it payable on the 1st and 15th day of each month. Many parents find it convenient to set up automatic, direct deposits of the child support amount into an account designated by the other parent.

When payments are made late (or not at all) a parent can request that the Court enter an Income Deduction Order that results in having the child support amount deducted directly from the paying parent’s pay check.

Dealing with the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement

The Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement is also available to serve as a free/low cost intermediary of child support payments. They will collect, track, and forward child support payments between parents.

Child support enforcement with arrears, interest and penalties

We won’t be covering this topic in detail because this Child Support Guide is more focused on requesting or responding to child support requests and not about collection. There are a couple of important things though that you should know.

Do Virginia child support laws add interest to unpaid support?

Yes. The law is pretty simple. Child support arrears accrue interest at the statutory rate of 6% per year.

Do Virginia child support laws allow child support to be waived?

Parents cannot take away the Court’s power (called jurisdiction) to order either of them to pay child support. Virginia’s laws are so strict that parents cannot even waive or limit a child’s right to child support. What do we mean by limit or waive? Here is one example – let’s say a parent fails to make child support payments. This could be for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, the mother and father get together and sign an agreement that waives the child support previously owed and unpaid. Is that agreement enforceable? Generally no. Child support arrears cannot be waived nor can the Court modify the child support arrears that have already accrued.

There are exceptions and they are based on unique circumstances which we will cover in future articles. There are also situations where the Court can decide not to enforce a child support order due to the custodial parent’s misconduct. That will also be the subject of a future article.

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Can a parent who doesn’t pay child support be held in contempt of the court’s order?

Yes, and the Court has a number of tools at its disposal to ensure the parties do what they were ordered to do. In the case of unpaid or late paid child support, the parent who willfully fails to perform as ordered could be put on a child support payment plan, ordered to pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees, or even be placed in jail. It’s never a good idea to ignore a court order!

Hire an experienced child support lawyer

You need a child support order. You are facing one against you. There is a modification hearing coming up or one needs to be filed. Whatever the issue you face, the best decision you can make is to consult with and retain a Virginia child support lawyer. If your case is going to be or is in Northern Virginia and you are ready to hire an attorney, contact us.

We hope you enjoyed this guide. We will be writing several others for those looking for general information on Virginia family law. Please check out our other guides and remember that a guide is not designed to provide you with legal advice or information about your specific case. Legal advice comes from having a private consultation with an attorney, preferably one who is experienced in divorce and family law.

 Enjoy this in-depth look at Virginia’s child support laws?

We hope you enjoyed this guide. We will be writing several others for those looking for general information on Virginia family law. Please check out our other guides and remember that a guide is not designed to provide you with legal advice or information about your specific case. Legal advice comes from having a private consultation with an attorney, preferably one who is experienced in divorce and family law.

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Contact us at: Westlake Legal Group Your Northern Virginia Full Service Law Firm. Call (703) 406-7616 or click here for our website: https://westlakelegal.com/

Cognitive Dissonance and Virginia Divorce

By | April 30, 2015

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Westlake Legal Group cognitive-dissonance-and-virginia-divorce-1 Cognitive Dissonance and Virginia Divorce Miscellaneous Marital Fault     Cognitive Dissonance and Virginia Divorce:  Upon the recommendation of a friend, I recently finished reading a fascinating book written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson called Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why we Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts.  It’s a book about cognitive dissonance, which, generally, is the notion that people sometimes hold (often vigorously) two ideas or beliefs that clearly contradict one another. In an entire chapter devoted to romantic relationships, the authors discuss, among other things, the ways couples justify their decisions to be together, and then to stay together.  I’ve excerpted one interesting passage below:

What do deliriously happy newlyweds have in common with unhappy couples who have remained together, in bitterness and weariness, for many years?  An unwillingness to take heed of dissonant information.  Many newlyweds, seeking confirming signs that they have married the perfect person, overlook or dismiss any discrepant evidence that might be a warning sign of trouble or conflict ahead:  “He goes into a sulk if I even chat with another man; how cute, it means he loves me.”  “She’s so casual and relaxed about household matters; how charming, it means she’ll make me less compulsive.”  Unhappy spouses who have long tolerated one another’s cruelty, jealousy, or humiliation are also busy reducing dissonance.  To avoid facing the devastating possibility that they invested so many years, so much energy, so many arguments in a failed effort to achieve even peaceful coexistence, they say something like “All marriages are like this.  Nothing can be done about it, anyway.  There are enough good things about it.  Better to stay in a difficult marriage than to be alone.”

I will look at any additional evidence to confirm the opinion to which I have already come.”  Baron Molson.

  My own practice as a family law attorney in the Northern Virginia area confirms the idea that one party to a romantic relationship often does, says, or thinks whatever confirms his/her own feelings of righteousness.  Is it “I’m right, we complete each other” or “I’m right, I deserve much better”?  Perhaps all we can do is peel back as much of the self-deception as possible and prepare ourselves for the outcome of our rational decisions.  It reminds me of a quote by John F. Kennedy, “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” In another section, the authors cite an interesting study by clinical psychologists Andrew Christensen and Neil Jacobson, who describe three possible ways out of the emotional impasses created when one spouse deeply hurts or betrays another.

In the first, the perpetrator unilaterally puts aside his or her own feelings and, realizing that the victim’s anger masks enormous suffering, responds to that suffering with genuine remorse and apology.  In the second, the victim unilaterally lets go of his or her repeated, angry accusations – after all, the point has been made – and expresses pain rather than anger, a response that may make the perpetrator more emphatic and caring rather than defensive.  ‘Either one of these actions, if taken unilaterally, is difficult and for many people impossible.’  Christensen and Jacobson say.  The third way, they suggest, is the hardest but most hopeful of long-term resolution of the conflict:  both sides drop their self-justifications and agree on steps they can take together to move forward.  If it is only the perpetrator who apologizes and tries to atone, it may not be done honestly or in a way that assuages and gives closure to the victim’s suffering.  But if it is only the victim who lets go and forgives, the perpetrator may have no incentive to change, and therefore may continue behaving unfairly or callously.

People rarely seek out marital advice from divorce litigators.  I get that and it may be a good thing.  As I’ve stated many times before though, I am a proponent of marriage.  People seem to live longer, happier, and fuller lives in the company of long term, romantic companions.  Lately, however, I’ve grown to suspect that the trend of surrounding ourselves with disposable goods makes us more inclined to view our personal relationships in a similar fashion.  Divorce can be very necessary, but it’s never something to be lightly undertaken. If you’ve got questions about these issues, feel free to drop me a line. Jason A. Weis, Esquire – Curran Moher Weis P.C. – jweis@curranmoher.com – 10300 Eaton Place, Suite 520 Fairfax, VA 22030 – 571-328-5020.

Contact us at: Westlake Legal Group Your Northern Virginia Full Service Law Firm. Call (703) 406-7616 or click here for our website: https://westlakelegal.com/

Virginia Family Law for Non-Family Law Lawyers

By | April 29, 2015

Westlake Legal Group virginia-family-law-for-non-family-law-lawyers Virginia Family Law for Non-Family Law Lawyers Uncategorized Spousal Support Property Division Miscellaneous Marital Fault Custody and Visitation child support


Jason A. Weis & Grant T. Moher
Curran Moher Weis, PC
10300 Eaton Place, Suite 520
Fairfax, Virginia 22030

As of January 1, 2013


a. What does domestic relations encompass?

Divorce; annulment; equitable distribution of property {division of property); spousal support (alimony); child custody, visitation, and support; paternity; pre- and post-marital agreements; division of retirement assets, adoption, tax consequences of separation and divorce; military issues and divorce; some issues affecting same-sex and unmarried couples; protective orders in cases of family abuse or stalking.

b. Common Law Marriage.

There is no such thing as common law marriage in Virginia, and the national trend has been to disfavor these. Currently, only a small handful of states recognize common law marriage, or any variation thereof.


a. Residency requirement. One party must be a bona fide resident and domiciliary of Virginia for at least six months before the commencement of suit for divorce. Va. Code § 20-97.

b. Types of Divorce. One can receive either a divorce a vinculo matrimonii, which is your “standard” divorce. One can also opt for a divorce a mensa et thoro, which is basically the same as legal separation pending a divorce a vinculo. Virtually no one gets a divorce a mensa and filing for one is typically only used as a mechanism to institute a divorce filing where there are grounds for divorce, but the parties have not been separated for the requisite amount of time.

c. Grounds. Divorces may be granted on either a fault or no-fault basis, as follows:

i. Adultery/Sodomy/Buggery. Sexual intercourse or other sexual acts with any third party. See Va. Code § 18.2-365, 18.2-361. One may counter a claim of adultery with any of the following, if they apply: 1) condonation (forgiveness); 2) collusion; 3) recrimination (both guilty of marital fault); and 4) statute of limitations (5 years from act).

ii. Conviction of a Felony. A divorce may be granted if either spouse has been convicted of a felony during the marriage and sentenced to confinement for more than one year.

iii. Cruelty. Cruelty typically involves physical acts only, however extreme mental cruelty may also be actionable.

iv. Desertion. If any party willfully deserts or abandons the other party (basically moves out without consent), divorce may be granted based on desertion.

v. Living Separate and Apart. Divorce may be granted if 1) the parties have lived separate and apart for more than one year, or 2) if the parties have lived separate and apart for six months, they have no minor children, and they have entered into a separation agreement. Separation in Virginia most often occurs when the parties are living in separate residences, not just in separate bedrooms, or when they cease engaging in marital relations. It is possible to live separate and apart in the same house, but very difficult.

vi. Pleading and Practice. One can only file for a divorce a vinculo before the one year separation requirement by filing based on adultery. However, for a felony conviction, cruelty, and desertion, one may file immediately for a divorce a mensa, which can later be amended to request a divorce a vinculo, after the expiration of the statutory period. Typically once a divorce has been filed, the court will set the final hearing for one year after the alleged date of separation, so that if fault grounds cannot be proven, a divorce can still be granted on the basis of separate-and-apart.


a. Grounds. Annulments in Virginia are rare, but may be granted to either party based on the following:

i. The marriage was not properly licensed and solemnized according to the Virginia Code.

ii. The marriage was prohibited under Va. Code § 20-38.1 (i.e. one party was married before an earlier marriage was dissolved, a marriage between certain related parties).

iii. Either party lacked the capacity to consent to marriage because of mental incapacity.

iv. Fraud or duress.

The aggrieved party only may seek annulment based on the following:

i. Either was under age 18 at the time of the marriage and did not comply with the consent requirements of Va. Code § 20-49.

ii. The other party suffered from “nature or incurable impotency of the body,” when the marriage contract was entered into.

iii. At the time of the marriage, the wife was pregnant by another man or husband fathered a child born to another woman within 10 months after the marriage.


a. General. Pre-Marital Agreements (also called Prenuptial Agreements) are Virginia contracts, and they are enforceable without consideration, provided they are executed according to the standards of Va. Code § 20-147 et seq. and are otherwise not assailable under contract law.

b. Requirements. Per § 20-147, et seq. Pre-Marital Agreements must be

i. In writing.

ii. Signed by both parties.

iii. Executed voluntarily.

iv. Must have a full disclosure of both parties’ assets or a waiver of full disclosure.

c. Scope. Per § 20-150, pre-marital agreements can address:

i. The rights and obligations of each of the parties in any of the property of either or both of them whenever and wherever acquired or located;

ii. The right to buy, sell, use, transfer, manage, etc., any type of property;

iii. The disposition of property upon separation, marital dissolution, death, or any other event;

iv. Spousal support;

v. The making of a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement

vi. The ownership rights in and disposition of the death benefit from a life insurance policy;

vii. The choice of law governing the agreement;

viii. Any other matter, including the parties’ personal rights and obligations, not in violation of public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty.


a. General. If a divorce case resolves before a final hearing, it is typically done with an agreement referred to as a Property Settlement Agreement, or “PSA.” The requirement for validity of these agreements is the same as for Pre-Marital Agreements. They may resolve all issues between parties or only some.

b. Scope. A PSA can resolve all outstanding issues between parties, similar to the scope of a Pre-Marital Agreement, but also including child custody, visitation, and support. Although courts have the ability to override parties if they think an agreement or any portion thereof is contrary to the best interests of a child, in practice this rarely happens.

c. Enforceability. PSAs are extremely difficult to overturn, even in situations where their practical effect is massively unfair. Where they are overturned, typically it will be because of oppressive conduct or unconscionability.

d. Incorporation within divorce decree. Typically, PSAs will be incorporated but not merged into the Final Decree of Divorce when granted. This allows the PSA to be enforceable by way of a contempt motion or rule to show cause, rather than having to file a separate breach of contract action.

e. Marital Agreements. Similar to Pre-Marital Agreements and Property Settlement Agreements, Marital Agreements are agreements entered into by married couples who want to define their rights in the marriage, but continue to live together as husband and wife. They are governed by the same statutes applicable to Pre-Marital and Property Settlement Agreements.


a. General. § 20-107.3 gives the Court jurisdiction to divide or transfer jointly owned marital property, make monetary awards, and apportion marital debt. The Court does not have jurisdiction to transfer property titled solely in one party’s name, except in limited circumstances such as a pension, profit sharing plan, or other retirement asset.

b. Classification of Property. Property can be classified as either marital, separate, or part-marital and part-separate (commonly referred to as “hybrid property”).

i. Marital Property. Marital property is all property titled in the names of both parties and all property acquired by each party during the marriage (regardless of who paid for it) that is not separate property;

ii. Separate Property. Separate property is all property owned by a party before the marriage; all property acquired during the marriage by gift, inheritance during the marriage from anyone except the other party; and all property acquired during the marriage in exchange for or from the proceeds of sale of separate property.

Income received from separate property is considered separate if not attributable to the personal effort of either party. The increase in value of separate property during the marriage is separate property, unless marital property or the personal efforts have contributed to the increases in value.

iii. Hybrid Property. Hybrid property is property that has both marital and separate component. Examples of this include real property purchased during the marriage using some of a party’s separate property or a 401(k) account owned prior to the marriage that contains both pre-marital and post-marital additions.

c. Calculation of Marital and Separate Interest in Hybrid Property. Virginia does not have a set formula or method for calculating the parties’ interests in hybrid property that has appreciated or depreciated. The method most commonly used is the “Brandenburg” method, which looks at the total contributions made to the asset, or which reduced the loan encumbering the asset, both marital and separate, and apportions the equity in the asset in accordance with those contributions. Although Brandenburg has been accepted by the Court of Appeals, it is not the only method, nor is it the most equitable in many situations.

The Keeling method has also been approved by the Court of Appeals. It awards a party who has made a down payment for the purchase of real estate that has appreciated in value a percentage increase on their down payment equal to the appreciation in value of the property.

The reasonable rate of return method has also been used in at least one Circuit Court case. It involves giving a party making a separate contribution to a piece of marital property their separate investment back, plus an amount designed to give them some rate of return on that investment.

d. Valuation of Property.

i. General. The standard of valuation in Virginia is the “intrinsic” value of the property. See Howell v. Howell, 31 Va. App. 332 (2000). Often this will be the same as the property’s fair market value, but sometimes it will not. For example, in the case of a business that generates significant revenue, but has either little or no fair market value because sale would be impractical or would not yield a fair price, intrinsic value may be far different than fair market value.

ii. Valuation date. In general, property is valued as close to the date of the final divorce hearing as possible.

e. Division of marital property. The court is not required to divide marital property evenly, and there is no presumption in Virginia that a 50/50 division should be made. In practice, however, judges generally start with the notion that marital property should be divided evenly, and generally end up there as well. However, when deciding how to divide marital property, the Court must consider the factors set forth in § 20-107.3.

f. Retirement Assets and Deferred Compensation. Pursuant to section 20-107.3, the Court has the authority to award a spouse an interest in the marital share of a party’s retirement, pension, profit sharing plan, deferred compensation plan and similar assets. This is true whether the plans are vested or unvested and whether they are defined contribution accounts, such as 401(k) plans, or defined benefits, such as traditional pensions which pay a monthly amount until death.

i. What may be awarded. Benefits to a spouse may be paid directly from the entity holding the benefits, such as the retirement plan administrator. Such benefits may only be directed by the Court to be paid to the spouse as they are payable to the party who holds the asset. Any payment ordered by the Court may not exceed 50% of the marital share of the benefits actually received by the spouse who holds the asset.

ii. ERISA plans. Most employer-sponsored retirement plans are covered by ERISA, the “Employee Retirement Income Security Act.” ERISA in general prohibits the transferring of pension rights to another person, however there is an exception in that benefits may be transferred to a former spouse in the event of divorce by way of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO.

iii. Military pensions. Military pensions are not covered by ERISA. They are divided by means of a Military Qualifying Court Order. If one wishes to require the military member to be required to elect his/her former spouse as their survivor beneficiary, they must send a “deemed election” letter to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (“DFAS”) within one year after entry of the Final Decree of Divorce.

iv. FERS and CSRS Government Pensions. FERS and CSRS government pensions are not covered by ERISA. They may be divided by means of a Court Order Acceptable for Processing, which should be prepared in accordance with federal government regulations applicable to same.

v. Thrift Savings Plans. Government thrift savings plans are not covered by ERISA. They may be divided by means of a Retirement Benefits Court Order (“RBCO”) prepared in accordance with the appropriate federal guidelines.

vi. Stock Options. Stock options are deferred compensation subject to division under § 20-107.3. Options that are vested during the marriage and before the date of separation are marital. Options that vest after the date of separation may be marital, but a fact-driven inquiry must be made. When were they granted? When will they vest? Is continued employment with the company required to keep them? Why were they granted? Often the summary plan description or granting documents associated with the stock options will yield this information.

g. Personal Injury and Worker’s Compensation Awards. Personal injury and worker’s compensation awards can be marital, separate, or hybrid property. The marital share of such an award is the component received for loss of wages incurred during the marriage and the medical expenses not covered by health insurance. The burden of proof to classify the marital and separate portions of the award is on the recipient thereof. See Chretien v. Chretien, 53 Va. App. 200 (2008).


a. General. § 20-107.1 authorizes the court to award support to any spouse, and § 20-103 authorizes the court to award pendente lite spousal support in anticipation of a final hearing. The Court may award periodic support, lump sum support, or both. The Court may award support for a defined or permanent duration.

b. Pleading and practice. Spousal support may be requested in a Complaint for Divorce. It may also be requested in a separate maintenance action, which is a common law claim that spouses are living apart and one requires support. Such a claim is commonly filed where parties are living separately but grounds for divorce do not yet exist. One may also file a Petition for spousal support in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court as well.

c. Factors for determining. Section 20-107.1 contains several factors the Court must consider to determine the amount and duration of a support award. An overarching consideration for the Court is the need of one spouse being balanced against the other spouse’s ability to pay. See Robertson v. Robertson, 215 Va. 425 (1975). Fairfax County and several other counties around the state utilize guidelines to determine spousal support for pendente lite purposes only. Several other local courts also informally use the Fairfax County guidelines to determine pendente lite support.

d. Termination. Per § 20-109, unless otherwise agreed, spousal support is terminated upon

i. The death of either spouse;

ii. The remarriage of the recipient spouse; or

iii. The presentment of clear and convincing evidence that the recipient spouse has been habitually cohabiting with another person in a relationship analogous to marriage for one year or more unless termination of support would be unconscionable.

1. If parties agree that support survives any of the above conditions, an agreement must specifically so state. A statement that “support shall not terminate for any reason” or similar language will not be sufficient. See Hardesty v. Hardesty, 40 Va. App. 663 (2003); Waugh v. Waugh, 79 Va. Cir. 120 (2009).

e. Modification. Where the court orders support, or when the parties agree that support may be modified, spousal support may be increased, decreased, or terminated upon a finding of the occurrence of a material change in circumstances, not reasonably within the contemplation of the parties when the award was made; or an event which the court had anticipated would occur during the duration of the award, but which does not in fact occur. § 20-109(B)

f. Effect of Adultery. A spouse guilty of adultery cannot be awarded permanent spousal support unless the court finds that the denial of support would constitute “manifest injustice.” § 20-107.1(B)

g. Reservation. In addition to, or in lieu of granting spousal support, the court may order a reservation of one or both spouse’s rights to seek spousal support in the future. There is a rebuttable presumption that such reservation shall continue for half the length of the marriage. § 20-107.1(C)

h. Tax implications. Spousal support is generally tax-deductible to the payor spouse and includable as income to the recipient, but may be subject to recapture rules and other issues. See IRS publication no. 504.


a. General. Courts have the authority to order one party to pay child support to the other for the support of any minor children they have together. § 20-107.2

b. Length of award. Child support is payable until age 18, but may be extended after age 18 if the child is “(i) a full-time high school student, (ii) not self-supporting, and (iii) living in the home of the party receiving support. Child support then continues until the child graduates from high school or turns age 19, whichever comes first. Support can also be continued for any child over 18 who is (i) severely and permanently disabled, (ii) unable to live independently and support himself; and (iii) resides in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support. In addition, a court can confirm an agreement by the parties to extend support beyond the statutory timeframe.

c. Guidelines. Support in Virginia is based primarily on guidelines that take into account various things, including the monthly gross incomes of both parties, health insurance costs for the minor children; and work-related child care costs of the minor children. If the non-custodial parent has over 90 days per year with the child, the number of days the non-custodial parent has with the children will be factored in; support is calculated using a shared custody guideline where the non-custodial parent has over 90 days per year with the child. The number generated by the guidelines is presumptively correct, but may be rebutted upon a showing that they would be unjust or inappropriate based on the factors set forth in § 20-108.2

d. Modification. Regardless of what the parties agree to, child support may always be modified by a court of competent jurisdiction based on a material change in circumstances occurring after the date the last order addressing child support was entered. See Crabtree v. Crabtree, 17 Va. App. 81 (1993).

e. Pleading and practice. Child support may be awarded in connection with a suit for divorce in the Circuit Court. An independent action for child support may also be brought in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court by married parties before a divorce commences, or between unmarried individuals who share a child.

f. Interstate practice. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, or UIFSA, governs the determination of what state has jurisdiction in support cases involving interstate issues. §20-88.32 et seq.


a. General. There are two different forms of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is generally the right to make major decisions in the child’s life, such as those relating to the child’s health, education, activities or religious upbringing. Physical custody simply refers to the place a child primarily lives (visitation).

b. What determines custody? Courts have the goal of assuring that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents, but custody is determined by the best interests of the child. In making this determination, courts must consider the factors set forth in § 20-124.3.

c. Visitation. There is no “standard” or presumptive visitation schedule for a non-custodial parent in Northern Virginia. Visitation will depend on the best interests of the child. Perhaps the most common visitation schedule in Northern Virginia is alternating weekends, one evening each week, an equal share of holidays and two weeks during the summer.

d. Third parties. Third parties who are “persons with a legitimate interest,” such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., may petition the Court for custody of a minor child. §§ 20-124.1, 20-124.2. However, to be awarded custody or visitation rights, third parties are held to a heightened standard. They must show that actual harm to the child is likely to result from their not being granted custody or visitation. See Griffin v. Griffin, 41 Va. App. 77 (2003).

e. Modification. Courts may modify custody decrees as the circumstances of the parents and the benefit of the children may require. § 20-108. The test for modification is generally set forth as: “custody should be modified if: (1) there has been a change of circumstances since the most recent custody award; and (2) a change in custody would be in the best interests of the children.” Keel v. Keel, 225 Va. 606 (1983).

f. Pleading and practice. Child Custody may be addressed in connection with a suit for divorce in the Circuit Court. An independent action for child custody and visitation may also be brought in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDR) by married parties before a divorce commences, or between unmarried individuals who share a child.

g. Interstate issues. Interstate custody issues are governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or “UCCJEA.” Under this act, a court of the child’s home state (where the child has lived for the last six months), generally has jurisdiction to decide custody cases involving more than one state.

h. International issues. International custody cases are governed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, where the other country in question is a signatory to the Convention.


a. Circuit Court. All divorces are filed in the Circuit Court. Once a Complaint for Divorce has been filed, the Circuit Court has jurisdiction to determine all issues connected to the divorce.

b. Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court has exclusive jurisdiction over custody, support, protective orders, and related issues between unmarried parties. It has concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Court over these issues between married couples.

c. Divestiture. If a case is pending in the Juvenile Court between married parties and one party files a Complaint for Divorce and sets a hearing on the issues of custody, guardianship, visitation, child support, or spousal support within 21 days of the filing of the Complaint, the Juvenile Court is divested of jurisdiction to enter any further orders on the matters that have been raised. § 16.1-244. However, the Juvenile Court can still enforce any existing orders it had previously entered. Once a Circuit Court enters an Order on the issues of custody, visitation or support, any Order entered in the Juvenile Court shall cease and become inoperative. § 20-79

d. Appeal. One may appeal any ruling of the Juvenile Court to the Circuit Court and be afforded a trial de novo, the Notice of Appeal must be filed within 10 days. If one is appealing a support award, an appropriate appeal bond must be posted.


a. Bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can affect divorce proceedings in several major ways.

i. Pending divorce proceedings involving the equitable distribution of property are automatically stayed upon the filing by one spouse of bankruptcy. A filing of bankruptcy also serves to stay any post-divorce collections until the stay is lifted;

ii. Child support and spousal support are absolutely non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. Many other obligations under a divorce decree or agreement are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

b. Taxation. Fully advising a divorce client in the area of taxation can be daunting (and perhaps best left for a tax attorney or CPA), but the most commonly applicable areas where taxation and divorce law intersect are the following:

i. Spousal support is generally deductible for the payor and income for the recipient, but child support is not tax-deductible;

ii. Child dependency exemptions generally may be claimed by the parent whom the child resides with most, however, a Court does have the ability to apportion the deduction between the parents;

iii. Attorney’s fees incurred for the pursuit, but not the avoidance, of spousal support are deductible;

iv. Transfers of property incident to divorce are not taxable;

v. Although separated parties may file a joint income tax return, they are not required to.

vi. Qualified Domestic Relations Orders permit the division of qualified retirement assets without penalty, but monies so divided are subject to standard income tax and penalties if used prior to retirement.

c. Pendente Lite Relief. After a Complaint for Divorce has been filed, and pending a final ruling by the Court, the Court may grant either or both parties temporary, or pendente lite, relief. § 20-103. The Court may:

i. Award spousal support and require the provision of health insurance coverage;

ii. Award preliminary attorney fees and costs of suit;

iii. Prevent either spouse from imposing any restraint on the personal liberty of the other spouse;

iv. Provide for the custody and visitation of any minor children (except in Fairfax);

v. Award child support and provide for health insurance coverage for any minor children;

vi. Award either party exclusive use and possession of the family residence;

vii. To preserve the estate of either spouse;

viii. To compel either spouse to give security to abide any such decree.

Contact us at: Westlake Legal Group Your Northern Virginia Full Service Law Firm. Call (703) 406-7616 or click here for our website: https://westlakelegal.com/

Relationship Advice From Divorce Lawyers

By | February 10, 2015

Westlake Legal Group relationship-advice-from-divorce-lawyers Relationship Advice From Divorce Lawyers relationship advice Miscellaneous forbes magazine article forbes emma johnson divorce lawyers

Recently, Emma Johnson of Forbes Magazine had the rather novel idea of asking divorce lawyers across the country for relationship advice.  I was one of them.  Seems akin to asking for health advice from a doctor who performs autopsies, which, when you think about it, makes sense.  Here is a link to that story:  Relationship Advice From Divorce Lawyers.

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Contact us at: Westlake Legal Group Your Northern Virginia Full Service Law Firm. Call (703) 406-7616 or click here for our website: https://westlakelegal.com/