By: Paul F. Nichols, AAML, Divorce Attorney and Partner with Nichols Zauzig
Now that you have decided to start the divorce process, take these six steps before filing for divorce in Virginia in 2019.
1. UNDERSTAND THE GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
In Virginia, a divorce can be granted on several grounds, which can be fault-based or no fault based. A no fault divorce can be awarded if the couple shows that they have continuously lived separate and apart for one year, without cohabitation. This time period can be reduced to six months if the couple has a property settlement agreement and there are no minor children.
Obtaining a fault or a no fault divorce is a legally complicated process and it is imperative that divorcing couples understand the existing laws concerning divorce, how property is divided, and how decisions about custody are made. The type of divorce you choose significantly impacts the elements you are required to prove, the time it will take to get a divorce, and the final divorce outcome.
At Nichols Zauzig, we assist clients with all types of divorces, whether based on fault or not. We are willing to work with clients seeking alternatives to litigation including arbitration and mediation. We also have extensive experience representing clients in litigated divorces and fighting for our client’s rights.
2. MEET RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS
You or your spouse must be a resident of Virginia for at least 6 months prior to filing for divorce. That means maintaining a physical residence in Virginia, and considering Virginia as his or her home. Proof of residency can involve providing recent state tax filings, a Virginia driver’s license or Virginia voter registration. Some special residency circumstances exceptions may be applied to military and foreign service personnel. An attorney can assist in determining those situations.
3. GATHER FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS
Before filing for divorce, gather financial information that is available to you. We will ask you to bring in tax returns for the last three years, information about retirement accounts, bank accounts and other assets. Copy statements from financial institutions, accountants, financial advisors and credit card companies. Consider assets you may have owned before you were married and collect paperwork showing their value prior to marriage.
Also gather data about debts owed by either of you, separately or jointly. Spouses frequently have separate accounts to pay for specific types of expenses. Try and gain information about the entire picture of family finances, so you can be prepared.
4. KNOW THAT SIGNIFICANT NEW DIVORCE AND CHILD SUPPORT LAWS CAN IMPACT YOU
Several new laws went into effect in 2018 that impact divorce and child custody. Educating yourself about them now can help with setting expectations and being updated on current law.
Federal Law Changes Taxes for Alimony Beginning in 2019
Alimony, or spousal support, is typically awarded in long-term marriages and in situations where one spouse is earning, or has the potential to earn, a higher income than the other. For instance, if one spouse has been a stay-at-home parent and the other has a successful career, the working spouse may be required to pay alimony to the non-working spouse.
A new federal law changed how alimony is taxed for both parties starting this year. For agreements and divorces executed on or after January 1, 2019 alimony is no longer deductible for the payor spouse. And the receiving spouse no longer has to pay taxes on it. The divorcing parties may negotiate an alimony arrangement on their own, or the court may award alimony. Check out our earlier blog for information about the new alimony federal tax law.
Spousal Support Modifications Revised in Virginia
Also this year, Virginia law changed how it treats alimony modifications. The new law states that if there is a material change in circumstances, a former spouse is entitled to a change in spousal support, unless there is an agreement saying it can’t be modified. In other words, an agreement that provides alimony – but does not expressly indicate that the amount and duration of alimony are not modifiable – will be subject to modification when there is a material change in circumstances.
Another revision to Virginia law in 2018 acknowledged that retirement at the maximum social security age (now 67) automatically creates a material change in circumstances that allows individuals to request modifications of spousal support.
Similarly, new Virginia requirements state that when spousal support rulings are made, courts must specifically indicate whether the parties’ retirement ages were considered. When the modification request is made for changes to a spousal support award, six factors must be considered, as described here: New laws impact spousal support and child custody.
Revised Child Support Guidelines Recalculate Financial Obligations
New Virginia child support guidelines took effect in July 2018 and recalculated parents’ financial obligations for the first time in more than 20 years. It is important to be aware that the new guidelines exist and how they may impact your children. The largest increases will affect higher income families, but there will be decreases as well. For more information, please see New child support guidelines begin July 1.
Child Custody Guideline Changed in 2018
Also effective July 1, Virginia required courts to consider both sole and joint custody as options in divorce cases. While courts have considered all custody options in the past, this addition to the law states that no particular form of custody is favored. This change could lead to more court-ordered shared parenting arrangements. As always, the court must consider the child’s best interests in making a custody determination. For more information, see New laws impact spousal support and child custody.
5. FIND AN EXPERIENCED DIVORCE ATTORNEY
How do you find a lawyer who is reputable? Consider Google and Avvo reviews, but also seek out peer-sanctioned professionals: those listed in Washingtonian Top Lawyers, Super Lawyers®, or with the highest rating, “Preeminent,” by the industry-standard Martindale/Hubbell. Another indicator of a highly qualified family law attorney is fellowship with the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), which has extensive admissions standards. Of the 55 fellows in Virginia, only three are based in Prince William County, and they are all with Nichols Zauzig. Take a moment to read the top credentials of our divorce attorneys.
Obtaining a divorce without the help of an attorney may put you at risk of losing assets or access to your children, or the risk that you will make expensive and erroneous decisions based on your emotions rather than your legal rights. Having the knowledge and expertise of a qualified attorney will lead to the best possible outcome for your future.
See also: Why These 3 Credentials Matter When Choosing a Divorce Lawyer
6. MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CONSULTATION
Most divorce attorneys offer consultations during which time you can ask questions, review the basics, get to know the attorney and decide if his or her level of experience and knowledge meet your needs. When you leave, you should have an idea of the attorney’s recommended path for you moving forward.
During the consultation, don’t be embarrassed to share personal information. Secrets are often revealed during the divorce process, and the sooner you raise issues, the more proactively you and your divorce attorney can deal with those issues. It is easy to get caught up in wanting to punish your spouse, or to become overly sentimental about what you want to keep in the divorce. The more level-headed you remain, the more quickly and easily you can resolve issues, and the less expensive your divorce will be. The divorce lawyers at Nichols Zauzig can assist you in resolving issues with your spouse outside of court, saving you the hassle and expense of litigating every aspect of your divorce.
At Nichols Zauzig, we understand that divorce is a trying time. Our dedicated team will address your concerns, guide you through every step of the legal process, fight for your rights and serve as compassionate and aggressive advocates. We will keep you informed of how your divorce is progressing and do everything in our power to ensure a fair settlement and a fast divorce so you can move on with your life. Schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys by calling 703-492-4200 or emailing us today!
DISCLAIMER: The results of every case depend on factors unique to that case, and Nichols Zauzig does not guarantee or predict results in similar cases.
Read more about the author Paul F. Nichols, Partner and Family Law Attorney with Nichols Zauzig.