No two divorce cases are the same, but they all tend to involve and revolve around a number of similar issues. What can you expect? Here are the usual issues divorcing parties must deal with:
- Child custody and visitation: If you and your spouse have children together, you will need to find a living arrangement that serves your kids’ interests. Ideally, both parents will play an active role in their children’s lives post-divorce, even if the kids live with one parent most of the time. Issues of domestic violence, absence, or abuse may complicate these matters. Custody is often the most difficult and hotly contested dispute in a divorce action.
- Child support: Typically, the non-custodial parent must provide the custodial parent with monthly child support payments to assist with the costs of raising the parties’ children. Virginia uses “Guidelines” from the Virginia Code that Courts, Mediators and Attorneys use to help parents establish a financial arrangement that is fair to both parties.
- Distribution of assets: Throughout your marriage, you likely accumulated a wide range of property and assets with your spouse — and divorce means you need to separate this property as equitably, or fairly, as possible. With a few minor exceptions, all of your property is assumed to be marital (shared between you)–no matter who bought it, who worked for it, or whose name is on the title or note if it was acquired during the marriage. This applies also to businesses owned by either party with some exceptions.
- Division of marital debt: Most couples have debt, especially if they own a home together. When you get divorced, you need to determine who is responsible for which portion of that debt, using a similar process as that of dividing your marital assets. As with the assets, debt is presumed to be shared by the parties unless one can show more responsibility by the other party.
- Sale or possession of the marital home: One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is what to do with the home that you and your spouse own together. This may involve one of you assuming ownership of the home, and then “buying out” the other spouse, or selling the home and dividing the net proceeds from the sale equitably between you. This process can be complicated if the home is “under water.”
- Spousal support: In certain situations, it might be necessary for one party to pay the other temporary spousal support until that person can obtain the education and training necessary to become more self-sufficient. In longer marriages, a lifetime award of support may be appropriate, until either party is deceased or the payee (receiving the support) remarries.
- Distribution of Marital Retirement Benefits: In short, whatever retirement benefits were accrued during the divorce are considered marital property and are divisible between the spouses, even if only one spouse worked. This would of course not apply to those benefits earned before the marriage: just to the segment of the employment that corresponds with the marriage tenure. Military pensions are no exception; the non-military spouse is generally entitled to ½ of the pension that would apply to any time the marriage overlapped with military service.
Most couples are able to come to some agreement on these issues outside of Court and sign/notarize a Property Settlement Agreement which your attorney will attach to the divorce decree as the full agreed division of your marital estate. If the parties are not able to come to agreement on a plan to equitably divide their estate, the Court can be called upon to decide how to best separate your lives. This must be the last option however, since at best, a Judge will have only a few hours to decide who gets what . . . and we are talking about your life here. Always better to maintain control of this important aspect of your divorce.