Family law covers devastating and difficult actions, such as divorce or child custody, but it can also represent the growth of a new family as it also includes adoption. Family law can become personal because it directly impacts certain relationships, such as those between a husband and wife and a child and parent. Our Virginia Beach family law lawyers have the knowledge to deal with these issues and to reach the best solution for clients.
What are the Different Aspects of Family Law?
Many associate family law with divorce, however, it covers other aspects of the family as well, which include:
- Adoption: The courts in Virginia play a vital role in determining the fitness and suitability of parents when it comes to adopting a child.
- Divorce: This represents the end of a marriage.
- Annulment: This occurs when two parties want to have the marriage voided as if it never happened.
- Child custody issues: When parents separate due to divorce or other issues, a court will determine a plan that is in the best interests of the child.
- Child support or alimony: After a divorce, one of the parties may be required to provide financial support for the former spouse or child.
- Prenuptial agreements: When two people wish to get married, they can sign a binding contract that will lay out the assets and other aspects should the marriage dissolve due to death or divorce.
- Paternity: There are instances when the parentage of a parent is in doubt and it needs to be confirmed. In some cases, it is to force that parent to financially support their child.
- Domestic abuse: While most instances of domestic abuse fall under criminal criteria, these actions also impact family law matters with regards to divorce and child custody.
- Restraining orders: If one of two people in a marriage fear for their personal safety or their child’s safety because of the other person, they can seek a restraining order.
An experienced lawyer can help ensure that the rights of the parent are protected and that they receive the best result possible.
What are Common Grounds for Divorce?
A divorce takes place when a husband and wife decide that they no longer wish to be married to each other. The Commonwealth of Virginia allows a person to file for divorce on fault-based or no-fault grounds. The strategy depends on the circumstances that led to the divorce. To qualify for a fault-based divorce in Virginia, one of the following must be proven:
- Felonies; must include one year of confinement
These types of divorce tend to dissolve quicker than no-fault divorces, however the person who is filing for divorce must submit a suitable amount of evidence that proves one of the previous situations occurred. If they can prove those grounds and a court grants the divorce, the dissolution of the marriage is immediate. As for no-fault divorces, the couple must have been living apart for more than a year.
In either instance, one person must be a Virginia resident for at least six months before they can file for divorce. If the two sides are unable to agree on certain aspects of the divorce, it will be considered contested unless the two sides can agree on the following:
- The division of assets
- The division of debts
- Child custody
- Visitation agreements
- Child support payments
- Spousal support payments
In a contested divorce, a judge will have to determine financial payments between both sides and the proper schedule for a child to spend with their parents. A lawyer can help with what could be a long and emotional legal battle.
How is Alimony Determined?
Virginia courts will determine the circumstances that led to the divorce and if one of the parties is eligible for alimony. Adultery is a major factor that can lead to alimony payments. Based on that information, the court will determine the amount of spousal support and the length of time the other person will have to pay. Additional factors the court will consider when determining alimony include the income and financial needs of both parties, the duration of the marriage, and the standard of living established during the marriage.
The court must also provide justification for the length of time a person will have to make payments as well. It cannot assign an arbitrary timeline, that number must be based on specific reasons. The person forced to make spousal payments can challenge the amount or duration of the payments. If a person is underemployed when a court determines the amount of alimony, it will base the number on the potential earning of that person and not their current income level.
How are Assets Distributed Following a Divorce?
Virginia utilizes equitable distribution laws when distributing assets following a divorce. That does not mean that all the assets are divided 50/50. However, there will be a fair distribution to both parties. The two sides can come to an agreement on dividing assets; if they fail to reach a resolution on their own, then a court will step in and distribute the assets. The court will only divide community assets, which are assets the two parties purchased together. Separate assets will remain with the initial owner.
In terms of dividing massive assets, such as a house, it can become complicated depending on when it was purchased and who wants to keep it. If the house was purchased prior to the marriage, the original owner will most likely keep the house, although they would have to make significant payments to the other, especially if the couple used joint assets to update or refurbish the home or make mortgage payments.
If the house was purchased during the marriage and only one person wants to keep it, then one person can buy out the other. If they both parties wish to sell it, then they can divide the final amount. If both parties want to keep the house, then it will be a matter for the court to decide. This situation can become quite complicated and will require a qualified lawyer to handle all the legal maneuvering that will be involved.
What Do I Need to Know About Family Court?
The Commonwealth of Virginia takes family matters seriously and all matters are brought before family court. In family court, there are strict provisions that must be followed, and judges will scrutinize all paperwork to ensure that it is filed correctly and on time. The court is there to adjudicate any matters. The Commonwealth prefers that parties resolve their issues amicably and without the court’s involvement. There are alternative dispute resolutions for people in Virginia. These methods tend to be less expensive and time-consuming than going through the court system. In most family law cases, a settlement is reached before the two parties get to a courtroom.
What are My Options for Child Custody in Virginia?
In the aftermath of a divorce, one of the most contentious and difficult processes involves custody of the children. Virginia determines custody under two parameters:
- Sole physical custody: Where the child will physically reside.
- Legal Custody: The parent who will make educational, medical, and religious decisions for the child.
A parent can have sole physical custody of a child, or both can have joint physical custody. However, it is possible for one parent to have sole physical custody of the child while both parents share legal custody. Virginia also takes visitation rights seriously when it comes to the welfare of the child. Even if a parent does not have sole or joint physical custody of a child, they are entitled to routine visits so that they can develop a relationship with them. Bringing in an experienced family law lawyer can help a person wade through child custody arrangements and hearings. In most cases, a qualified lawyer can help with:
- Shared parenting
- Visitation and parenting time arrangements
- Legal and physical custody issues
- Child relocation
- Developing a parenting plan
- Child support
What are Virginia’s Child Support Requirements?
Parents are under a legal obligation to financially support their children in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In the case of divorce, usually the parent who does not have primary custody of the child is under an obligation to make routine payments for education, medical costs, and other costs of living expenses. The monthly payments are based on the total income of both parents, since it is assumed that is what the child would have enjoyed had the couple remained together. A court does not have to mandate the child custody payments as Virginia’s social services department can do that as well. To qualify for that, a parent can file an application with Virginia’s Division for Child Support Enforcement (DCSE).
Virginia’s child support guidelines establish the correct amount that the non-custodial parent will have to pay. The first payment will be due on the date chosen by the agency. Many parents who pay child support question if getting re-married will have an impact on child custody payments. For the most part, it will not impact the amount a parent has to pay. The amount is based on the amount each parent makes, not their new spouses. However, a parent is prohibited from attempting to lower their child support payments through false means. In other words, the initial payment is based on their salary. If they do something to deliberately lower their salary, such as quit their job, the court will not see that as a viable income change and will maintain the monthly payment amount.
A parent is obligated to continue making child support payments until the child is 18 years old. If the child is still living at home at age 18 and has not graduated high school, then they are obligated to pay until the child turns 19 or graduates high school, whichever comes first. In addition, a parent is obligated to pay beyond a child’s 18th birthday if they have special needs or cannot live on their own.
What Do I Need to Know About Adoption in Virginia?
For a couple looking to expand their family through adoption, it can be a wonderful decision, but also a complicated one. There are numerous aspects involved in the adoption process. Virginia allows for two different types of adoptions, including those conducted by authorized agencies, such as public social services departments and private licensed child placing agencies; and those made by the birth parents or legal guardians.
With agency adoption, the parental rights of the initial parents have been terminated by the Commonwealth and the decision on the proper family to adopt will be made by the placement agency itself. These adoptions tend to be more complex as Virginia wants to ensure that the child, who could be coming from a difficult situation, is placed in a proper home. With non-agency adoption, the parents or legal guardians authorize the adoption of the child. Their parental rights are terminated upon completion of the adoption. Those authorized to place a child in the Commonwealth of Virginia are a child’s birth parents, their legal guardians, or a licensed or duly authorized child-placing agency.
In Virginia, if a couple wishes to adopt, the Commonwealth must first approve it. In instances of agency or parental placements, a home study must be conducted. During this home study, Virginia officials examine the home and those who live in it to verify:
- Current family dynamics
- Potential dynamics after the addition of an adopted child
- Reasons behind wanting to adopt
- Educational background
- Family history
- Work history
- Financial wellbeing
- Criminal background for everyone living in the home
Virginia regulates home studies, which can take an average of five to nine weeks to complete.
As a Stepparent, How Do I Adopt My New Stepchildren?
There are instances when a new parent joins a family that already has children, and they develop a strong bond. The next logical step for that stepparent is to formally adopt the children. Stepparent adoptions are the most common and can be the easiest. However, the stepparent must try to reach out to the biological parent and obtain their consent. If their consent is granted, then the adoption moves forward. Even if the biological parent does not consent, it does not mean that it will be enough to invalidate the entire process. A court can overrule the parent’s lack of consent if:
- The court could not obtain consent because the biological parent failed to appear for the hearing.
- The biological parent is withholding consent against the best interests of the child.
Once the adoption moves forward, a home study will be conducted to determine the conditions the child will be living in and their relationship with the prospective adoptive parent. There might be some instances where a hearing needs to be held if the original parent is challenging the divorce or if there is some question as to the fitness of the adoptive parent. The court will parse through the facts of the case to determine if it is in the best interests of all parties involved, particularly the child, for the adoption to move forward.
Virginia Beach Family Law Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Help Clients with Various Legal Matters
Dealing with divorce or child custody conflicts can be a messy and emotional experience. You need a lawyer on your side that can sift through the emotional aspects of a case and concentrate on the legal aspects. The Virginia Beach family law lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC have the knowledge to help you through these difficult times. For an initial consultation, call us at 757-LAW-0000 or contact us online. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.