The movie National Treasure hinges at one moment on the protagonist, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage), who steals the Declaration of Independence. That is something you just don’t do. Some documents, like the Declaration, are so rare, so special, they cannot be trifled with. Is your separation agreement one of those documents?
Separation Agreements Aren’t Just Pieces of Paper
A Virginia separation agreement (or property settlement agreement) is not a unique article. Yes, a Virginia Circuit Court judge will have to sign off on the document, and it is a legally enforceable piece of paper. But its permanence does not hinge on the physical document. The pertinent facts of it are recorded by the court clerk and the legal case it represents exists as a separate entity.
What does this mean about the actual piece of paper? It means your wife can toss it in the 4.6 horsepower CI BS7 Power Blender and make a settlement smoothie, but the intent and enforcement of the document remains.
She can run over it with a 189-horsepower lawnmower and the intent of the document remains.
She can shove it into the $19,799.01 Kobra Cyclone industrial shredder but your rights remain unshredded.
As long as the property settlement agreement (or separation agreement, if you insist) is filed with the Virginia Circuit Court, a legally enforceable copy exists. Destruction of a legal document does not negate the intent of the document.
Entering it into Public Record
Unfortunately for many couples, divorce and separation are legally sanctioned activities in Virginia, so to have anything done to change the circumstances of matrimony, you and your spouse must enter facts into public record.
One important fact is your property settlement agreement, because it sets out conditions of divorce:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Visitation schedule
- Spousal support
- Property division
The details of your settlement agreement may include personal information:
- Account numbers
- Social security numbers
- Personal identifying information
- References to a marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates, and property deeds
As such, that is protected information. That means getting a copy from the court clerk is not as simple as clicking a mouse on a computer. You need to show identification, probably have a case number, and demonstrate to the clerk’s satisfaction that you are an interested party entitled to a copy.
Watch that Temper
We can imagine all sorts of scenarios where your wife thinks she has voided the agreement by tearing it up, perhaps in front of you. While inconvenient to you, and possibly extremely annoying, her actions do nothing to change the details and obligations the agreement spells out.
A property settlement agreement affects more than just your wife. You would have a copy, and both attorneys (yours and hers) will have a copy on file, too. So her decision to throw away the signed agreement may satisfy her moment of pique but affects nothing about the agreement itself.
Reminding her of that may invite additional venom, so choose a time and a place for that discussion. But have the discussion. She cannot ignore what she does not like about the settlement agreement. She cannot stall, put you off, or pick and choose what she will abide.
Get Legal Muscle
At no point should you respond to her uncontrolled behavior with more uncontrolled behavior. You may momentarily have to deal with not getting your kids for a weekend or listening to her false claim of ownership of property that is clearly yours. Yet answering her anger with anger gets neither of you to the place you want to be: at peace and with your property; in compliance and agreement.
Enlist the help of your attorney, who can inform your wife’s attorney that she is not upholding the property settlement agreement/separation agreement. Your wife’s attorney will be far more effective than you can be in corralling her behavior, since he can outline the legal consequences of ignoring Virginia law.
Judges working with family and juvenile cases, and judges working in Circuit Courts with divorce, are all accustomed to providing emotionally fragile plaintiffs and defendants with wide latitude. Nerves are raw. Tempers flare. The judges get that. Yet Virginia’s judges have little patience with defiant spouses. Ignoring a property settlement agreement signed by a judge will be a quick way to incur the wrath of that judge.
Code of Virginia provides a penalty for contempt of $250 and up to 10 days in jail under § 16.1-69.24, two penalties that will chill even the most hot-tempered wife.
Call The Firm For Men
Whether you write it on a scrap of paper or your own copy of the Magna Carta, the telephone number 757-383-9184 is your key to unlocking the assistance of The Firm For Men. (You can also contact us online). We can help defend your rights as a Virginia man, preserving legal agreements and advocating for fairness in your separation.