Virginia Family Law FAQ
How can I resolve my family law problem?
Regardless of whether it is a divorce, custody, visitation, support or property division, you have the ability to select a process of dispute resolution which best meets the needs of you and the other party. While litigation is the method of dispute resolution most widely mentioned, it is frequently a costly and adversarial process which may not be best suited for a family law matter. Especially where there are children, a divorce or separation need not result in a “broken” family, but one which is “reformed”. Among the alternate dispute resolution methods are negotiation, mediation and collaboration. All lawyers are required by our ethical rules to discuss alternate dispute resolution with clients, so you should feel free to make inquiries in an attempt to find the method best suited to the resolution of your case.
What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?
Virginia Code Section 20-91 sets forth the grounds for a divorce in Virginia. These grounds include living separate and apart for a defined period of time, adultery, cruelty and desertion. It is best to discuss the facts of your situation with a lawyer who will be able to provide you with both information and guidance regarding your case and the applicable law.
How does the Court decide custody and visitation?
A court allows, and even encourages, the parents of a child to attempt to construct a custody and visitation arrangement. However, if the parties are unable to do this, the court will determine these arrangements based on what is in the child’s best interests.
Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 provides the factors the Court must consider to determine the child’s best interests. They are:
1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child's changing developmental needs;
2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child's life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child;
4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers, and extended family members;
5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child's contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference;
9. Any history of (i) family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228; (ii) sexual abuse; (iii) child abuse; or (iv) an act of violence, force, or threat as defined in § 19.2-152.7:1 that occurred no earlier than 10 years prior to the date a petition is filed. If the court finds such a history or act, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
What will my case cost?
Every case is different and an attempt to estimate fees and costs in any given case is difficult, if not impossible. The cost to a client will usually consist of the direct charges for the attorney (called the “fee”), usually expressed as an hourly rate, and indirect expenses (called “costs”), usually provided by third parties like appraisers, business valuators, accountants, tax professionals, mental health professionals and court reporters. Factors which influence the fees and costs will include the process of dispute resolution selected by the parties, the extent of discovery required, the decisions made by your opposing party and/or his/her attorney and the complexity of issues presented. As a general rule, where parties can reach agreement and a lawyer prepares a formal agreement and proceeds to secure a divorce on the grounds of living separate and apart, a client might incur an expense as low as $1,500 to $2,000. In cases involving valuations of business interests or contested custody litigation, those costs could rise rapidly. We have seen cases where the fees and costs to a party exceeded $50,000 for a case. We would encourage clients to engage in a frank discussion about financial concerns with your lawyer. This can avoid unpleasant situations including the withdrawal of your lawyer from the representation and/or the filing of an attorney’s lien.