The character Roger “Verbal” Kint in Usual Suspects is a charade, disguising the evil genius of (spoiler alert) Keyser Söze in the same body. He is called “Verbal” because he can talk your ears off. He should, technically, be called “Oral,” but the connotation is a bit racey for the role, so Verbal it is.

Verbal vs. Oral

You see, “oral” refers to spoken language, while “verbal” refers to either spoken or written language. A homophone for “oral” is the word “aural,” which relates to hearing. In Virginia law, lawyers make oral arguments, judges hear them aurally, and everyone passes around lots of verbal — written — paperwork. In Virginia divorce, oral agreements, as the saying goes, are worth the paper they are printed on.

You Say Verbal

Whether you call them oral agreements or verbal agreements, we’ll assume you are referring to a pact reached in spoken word only, not written down. If you and your ex-wife reached an understanding about custody of your children, parenting time, or a visitation schedule, both your attorneys will have an easier time in drafting the written agreement.

Neither attorney is likely to move ahead with your mere word that everything is worked out. Certainly a judge cannot point to a piece of evidence that is simply spoken words and judge it to be valid or invalid — there is no there there.

Oral contracts are fraught with problems for lawyers, judges, notaries public, court clerks, and any other officers of the court. Did you mean what you said, or say what you mean? Did I hear you correctly, or hear what I wanted to hear?

Does a Court Consider Oral Agreements?

Inevitably when divorce comes up in a friendly Virginia drinking establishment that, like the legal association, also has a bar, some alehouse attorney will mention that oral arguments related to divorce are actually mentioned in that good book, the Code of Virginia. Taking a portion of a passage out of context is always a popular pastime for some self-important folks, and this is no exception.

Virginia Code § 20-106 does indeed discuss both divorce and oral evidence. It does not, though, grant to the oral evidence the same weight as written evidence. The exact wording tells us:

“In any suit for divorce, the trial court may require the whole or any part of the testimony to be given orally in open court, and if either party desires it, such testimony and the rulings of the court on the exceptions thereto, if any, shall be reduced to writing, and the judge shall certify that such evidence was given before him and such rulings made.”

It specifically does not say that oral argument, testimony or evidence is equal to written testimony or evidence. This applies to affidavits, depositions, or any other form of communication entered into the court as evidence between you and your wife or ex-wife.

Pro Tip: Just Get It In Writing

Consider the weight and heft of the words uttered aloud, “Sure, you can have the kids three weeks a month and all summer.” When the time comes to put that promise into play, your ex-wife could just as easily say, “When did I ever agree to that? I don’t remember saying that.”

Just or not, our society depends on the printed, written word to drive contracts, promises, and commitments. We write I.O.U.s. We require a celebrity’s autograph to prove to friends we met the celebrity.

If an offer is good, it is good in writing as well as in spoken word. Why should your spouse hesitate to put down in a property settlement agreement exactly when you get the kids? If she is sincere, she will have no problem putting words to paper.

Though she may be honorable, and willing to offer oral testimony to a Virginia judge that she did, in fact, agree to give you the kids three weeks a month and all summer, your life (and your children’s lives) will be more stable, simple, and predictable with a printed, written visitation schedule.

Edits and Revisions

The court’s decree that includes your child custody and visitation is a legal document. If either you or your ex-wife fail to meet the requirements, the other person can petition the court for a contempt of court charge.

And yet, thousands of divorced Virginia couples do make small changes to their visitation and custody schedules. If neither party takes offense, neither party needs to feel aggrieved. In that case, the oral agreement may hold sway, but it doesn’t protect you if the overall attitude between you and your child’s mother changes.

Document any oral changes with written notes. For months you two may comfortably loosen restrictions on visitation, but as soon as an issue arises, all your latenesses, lapses and lame excuses could come back to haunt you.

Reach Out to The Firm For Men

Whether you choose to contact The Firm For Men through oral communication by calling 757-383-9184, or through verbal contact online, we are ready to listen and help. Our team of family law attorneys for men can help you unwrap the thorniest issues of child custody, parenting time, and visitation. We defend men’s rights every day, and do so through verbal agreements and oral arguments in Virginia’s courts.