What’s the worst four-letter word? Nope, it’s not that one, that one, or even the c-word. It’s “just,” as in “I just want to make some adjustments to the materials, color scheme, timeline, and budget of my home remodeling project.” Ranking up there, too, are phrases like, “We could just make a few dozen changes to the legally binding agreement I just signed.” Yet a separation agreement can be modified in most cases. You will pay for the professional service, but you may save money, heartache, and headaches in the long run.
What Is a Separation Agreement?
A separation agreement or property settlement agreement sets down the general guidelines for many aspects of separation and divorce:
- Equitable division of property (real estate, personal effects, intangible assets)
- Spousal support (often with a goal of educating the separated spouse for future employment)
- Child custody (shared, joint, sole; physical and legal custody)
- Child support (equitably, based on custody)
- Parenting time schedules (working out details of normal and holiday visitations, where children will be handed off from one parent to the other, and how exceptions will be handled)
The separation agreement serves as a template for the divorce action to come later, after the waiting period of separation in Virginia. It is based on economic circumstances in place at the time of separation, such as job status, income, expenses, and assets.
Permanency and Change
Greek philosopher Heraclitus nailed it in the 500 BCE era with his oft-quoted epigram, “There is nothing permanent except change.” Humans have had to deal with vicissitudes, disappointments, surprising developments, and unexpected plot twists through our entire existence.
Separation and divorce are not immune to change, either. At the time you and your departing spouse signed the property settlement agreement, all may have been well in your world. Then reality kicks you in the (your choice: head, teeth, tushy) and circumstances change.
You need to make changes to the property settlement agreement. Not because you want to, but because you need to. And for that, you need your family law attorney.
Making Modifications to a Separation Agreement
Generally speaking, modifications to separation agreements can only be made if your circumstances materially change. Circumstances can change for many reasons:
- Money — you inherited wealth unexpectedly; you lost a fortune in the stock market
- Time — you have more time available for your children; you have less time available for your children
- Health — your child develops a chronic illness; you cut your hand on a frozen waffle
- Employment — you lost your job, your hours were cut, or (bless you!) you got a better-paying, more prestigious job or a promotion in rank
- Geography — your employer compels you to move; the military assigns you to a foreign post
Consequently, certain parts of the separation agreement may allow modification to fit your current circumstances:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Parenting time schedules
For any modification to be approved by a Virginia judge, evidence must be presented showing “a material change in circumstances,” a phrase the legislators clearly enjoy because they festoon many sections of Virginia Domestic Relations with it.
For instance, if you wish to modify spousal support, turn to § 20-109, fetchingly titled, “Changing maintenance and support for a spouse; effect of stipulations as to maintenance and support for a spouse; cessation upon cohabitation, remarriage, or death; effect of retirement.”
Go ahead, guess how many times that one little code has the magic phrase. Twice? Thrice? Nah! Six times. Your attorney can petition a Virginia court to change the conditions of spousal support in your separation agreement for many reasons:
- “… there has been a material change in the circumstances of the parties, not reasonably in the contemplation of the parties when the award was made …”
- “For purposes of the modification of an award of spousal support, and without precluding the ability of a party to otherwise file for a modification of spousal support based upon any other material change in circumstances, the payor spouse’s attainment of full retirement age shall be considered a material change in circumstances.”
- “In any action for the increase, decrease, or termination of spousal support, if the court finds that there has been a material change in circumstances, the court may consider the factors set forth in subsection E of § 20-107.1 and subsection F of this section in making its determination as to whether any modification or termination of such support should be granted.”
That is only one part of one provision usually included in a separation agreement. The same pattern of reasons to apply for modifications holds up in other areas, such as child custody and child support.
Call The Firm Representing Men and Fathers Only
Go ahead. Contact your family law attorney, the same one who developed the separation agreement, and discuss possible modifications. Together, you can find just as many reasons as you need to modify the agreement. You just have to ask, and together, you just have to look!
Explore your options by contacting us today at The Firm For Men, or telephoning us at (757) 383-9184. For Virginia’s men, we can help with property settlement agreements, custody concerns, and financial security long into your post-divorce future.