A whole new raft of laws1 took effect in Virginia July 1, 2017. Included among them: the all-important Blaze Pink law. The law allows hunters to wear blaze pink instead of blaze orange hunting apparel during hunting season. Also enacted was HB 2289, compelling a person paying spousal support to continue life insurance naming the supported spouse as beneficiary. It is one of four critical facts you should know about Virginia’s divorce laws. (You can decide for yourself if you want to wear pink to hunt deer).
Ever-Changing yet Still the Same
Though Virginia’s laws are constantly evolving to keep up with changing times, the bulk of the Code of Virginia continues to affirm our state’s general outlook on divorce: it must be equitable, impartial, hold people accountable, and always hold the best interests of Virginia’s children above all else.
If you are a loving Dad, you will not hesitate to put the needs of your kids first, but the concept is enshrined in law. Not just once, but dozens of times.
If you are a beleaguered husband, you will be happy to know state law automatically treats you as an equal to your wife in divorce: property is equitably (not evenly) split; responsibilities are equitably divided; child custody is gender-neutral. Spousal support payments can go either way (you give to her or she gives to you).
If you are strong proponent of the Virginia Nurses Foundation (VNF), you will be gladdened to know that HB 1732, authorizing special license plates for supporters of the VNF, became law on July 1, too. Just tossing that in.
#1: Children Come First
In every part of Code of Virginia dealing with divorce, children are paramount concerns. Their safety, well-being, financial support and bright futures are all carved into the sections and subsections. If you and your wife had a child or children, every Virginia judge is obligated to always keep “the best interests of the child” in mind. It is right there in the title to § 20-124.3; it appears more than 40 times in the Code.
This means your divorce cannot so completely disrupt your children’s lives as to cause harm to them. The judge will take into account those best interests when dealing with contested divorce, fault grounds, child custody, visitation, child support, and much more.
#2: Equitable Division
An old saying goes that treating everyone the same is not treating them fairly; treating each according to their needs is fair. This is true with equitable, not even, division of property, debts and responsibilities in divorce.
The word “equitable” means divided as to be fair, not 50-50. True, some judges will cleave debts and assets close to 50-50, but most times they will not. Marital assets come in three forms:
- Separate property — Assets or benefits owned independently by one or the other spouse
- Marital property — Assets or benefits derived during the marriage and shared equally by both spouses
- Hybrid property — Benefits derived during the marriage from separate property, with those benefits favorably impacted by the non-owning spouse
Under Code of Virginia § 20-107.3, debts come in the same three forms:
- Separate debt — Debt independently incurred, before the marriage, by either spouse
- Marital debt — Debt incurred during the marriage
- Hybrid debt — The court may designate a single debt as apportioned separately or maritally, so one spouse bears a greater burden than the other
This equitable division helps to prevent your wife from running off with the credit cards two days after you formally declared your separation; she will be wholly responsible for her shopping spree.
#3 Individual Responsibility
We started this with HB 2289 (no we didn’t — we started by talking about Blaze Pink, and here we can also mention HB 2201, which dropped the fine for driving on the wrong side of the road from $250 to $100), about what is now “§ 20-107.1:1. Court may decree as to maintenance of life insurance policy.” This law means that you cannot attempt to punish your ex-wife by no longer carrying a life insurance policy on yourself that names her as a beneficiary, if you are making spousal support payments. It also means, though, that she has to pay a portion of those insurance premiums, so each of you gets something from the new law, which you can read in its entire tranquillizing glory here.
This points to Virginia’s tradition of upholding individual responsibility. You cannot circumvent the steps your lawyer outlines for you, from separation through final divorce decree. Divorce is highly emotional; the law is dispassionate, and holds you responsible for your words, actions and liabilities.
As Virginia law has evolved, it has largely moved past concepts like the “tender years doctrine,” and is, ideally, gender-neutral. You as a Dad have just as much legal right to child custody (sole or shared, physical or legal), spousal support and child support as your ex-wife.
Need to quote the nugget that may matter most to you? Try § 20-124.2, subsection B, on determining child custody: “As between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either.”
Ask the Family Lawyers for Men
These four concepts — children, equitable division, personal responsibility and gender neutrality — frame just about every Virginia divorce case. By calling The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184, or by contacting us online, you can learn far more information about Virginia divorce, separation, and other family law topics. Speak with one of our attorneys and find out how you can best navigate Virginia’s divorce laws and preserve your rights. We can also go more fully into the whole Blaze Pink kerfuffle, but do NOT get us started on SB 856, Lifetime Licenses for Cats and Dogs. Whoo-boy.