Having your home vandalized is heartbreaking, threatening, and frightening. It is made all the worse if you suspect your spouse is responsible for the vandalism. How could this happen? If she is living in your marital home during your separation, and the home is to be sold as part of the property settlement agreement, she may think this one last bit of retribution is somehow going to even the score against you. She is wrong, but what can you do?
Revenge, Anger, and The Like
If you think your wife would behave so rashly as to trash the house before she vacated, you can tie yourself in knots trying to figure out why she would do it. Revenge is one motive; anger is another. She may have been under the influence and not realized how much damage she was doing, or she could have invited some unsavory friends over and things got out of control.
The reality is, though, two things do not immediately matter if you find your marital asset vandalized:
- Who did it
- Why they did it
Instead, you need to get busy with the paperwork:
- Call the police
- File an insurance claim
- Contact your divorce lawyer
Gone are the days of Dragnet, that 1960s chestnut of a cop show in which detectives spent days and days chasing down a guy for stealing a radio. Most likely, if your marital home is vandalized, the police will take your information, provide you with a report number for insurance, ask you if you have any reason to suspect someone, and do very little else. This is not to sound cynical; the police have limited resources, so do not expect fingerprint dusting and police photographers and the like. Besides, your wife’s fingerprints would be on everything, anyway.
What’s the Punishment for Vandalizing Property?
If you provide your wife’s name as a possible suspect, law enforcement officers may interview her, or they may not. Vandalism is criminal mischief, but depending on the amount of damage, it could rise to the level of a Class 6 felony. Under Code of Virginia § 18.2-10, that carries “a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years, or in the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.”
The dividing line between misdemeanor and felony is $1,000; if your marital home is vandalized and the damage is under $1,000, the perpetrators committed a Class 1 misdemeanor (punishable under § 18.2-11 by a fine of up to $2,500, a year in jail, or both).
But Is Jail the Right Place?
By filing the police report and insurance claim, you are absolved of a knotty problem, should your wife be found guilty of vandalizing a home that she (and you) are relinquishing in a divorce. The problem: do you want your ex-wife and mother of your children to end up in jail? How will that affect your children? How will that affect custody?
Whether you want her to or not, by turning the matter over to law enforcement and the insurance company, you are not responsible for the resolution to the problem she created, if it is proven she did it.
Let Us Introduce You to Marital Waste
If you two are separated, and you have taken up residence elsewhere, but have not yet received a final divorce decree, you both own the marital asset.
Your attorney can effectively argue you each have a fiduciary responsibility to the other spouse to maintain the marital asset so that it can be sold and the proceeds equitably divided. In other words, she has no legal right to deliberately destroy your home (your asset) and rob you of the proceeds. This is called marital waste, and when brought to a judge’s attention it can result in one of two outcomes in your favor:
- A change to the percentage distribution of all other marital assets (boats, vacation home, retirement funds, automobiles)
- An award to the wronged party (you) equal to the value of the wasted asset
Protect Yourself and Your Home
You can do little to safeguard the marital home itself, especially if you are not living in it. You can, though, safeguard possessions within the home. Prevention is vital, as it telegraphing to your spouse exactly what you are doing and why:
- Inventory, photograph and catalog every stick of furniture, valuable jewelry, art, tools and furnishings
- Video record the home’s interior and exterior — do not worry about making it look slick and professional, since you are only documenting and dating the assets
- Keep a separate file, away from the marital home, with any paperwork showing provenance of inherited items, separate property, and receipts (if available) for big-ticket items
Call the Virginia Family Lawyers Representing Men Only
Absolutely call the police if you have a criminal complaint, but call The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or contact us online, if you need help resolving a family law issue. Property settlement, divorce, and custody are exactly the challenges we tackle every day. As experienced family lawyers for men, we are dedicated to working to preserve and defend the rights of Virginia’s men. Call today – we’re the only family law firm in Virginia representing men exclusively!