You think you know Virginia divorce law?

Posted on Jul 10, 2024 by Katie Carter

I see misinformation everywhere, almost every single day.  It seems like, when it comes to legal advice, almost everyone thinks they know all the answers – and they’re comfortable enough to tell other people what they should do, too.

The thing is, though, that they’re often wrong.

Just today I saw some divorce coach on Instagram telling people that if they buy a house before marriage and title it in only their name that it’s not divisible in divorce.  Okay, fine, except – in Virginia, at least, that’s not true.

This isn’t so much an article about how Virginia divides property as one about how important it is that you have your facts straight.  In Virginia, property is marital regardless of how it is titled or deeded; it’s a question of where the money came from that paid for the asset.  It can be a hybrid asset – that is, part marital and part separate – if it was partially paid for (like, say, the down payment and a certain number of mortgage payments) before marriage and then paid for (as in, either mortgage payments on an ongoing basis or improvements made to the property) with marital money.  Marital money is anything you earn during the marriage, whether you or your partner earned it.

There are some categories of property that are truly separate – and it’s theoretically possible that an entire house could be, too.  Let’s say it was fully paid off.  Or your parents paid the mortgage for you on your behalf.  Or you used your trust fund to pay it.  You used the proceeds of the sale from a previous home that you paid for with your separate money.  Or maybe you continued to make mortgage payments, but you had tenants living in the home who actually paid the mortgage.

But it’s also possible – maybe even probable – that the house is a marital asset.

The problem happens when people read content like this – or, somehow, have these beliefs – and then they start to negotiate their divorce agreements with their soon-to-be ex.  If your husband tells you that his house is his separately, and you’ve seen this content or you’ve carried this belief with you (or even just feel convinced of the ‘rightness’ of this because your husband’s position is so unequivocal), you might find yourself willing to waive an interest in something that you are legally entitled to receive at least a portion of.

That’s …not a strong position.

And, the thing is, it happens all the time.  Like, to the women who hear and then believe in the military ten year myth.  Actually, there are a lot of misconceptions around retirement and how it is divided.

But it’s not just retirement.  It can happen in any area of the law – like child or spousal support, or even child custody.

Most people don’t know what the law is.  It’s not your fault or theirs.  It’s not something that you do every day.  And you’ve been fed a lot of messages by media that may or may not be accurate at all, or accurate in the state where you’re currently living.  And things change – sometimes a lot – over time, so what might have been true in your parents’ divorce 25 years ago may not be true now.

Verify.  Gut check.  Talk to a lawyer.  We always hear how much attorneys cost, but have you ever thought about how much attorneys SAVE their clients?  Sure, if you don’t meet with an attorney and you agree to waive your interests in the house your husband bought before marriage, you’ve paid $0 in attorney’s fees.

But if your interest in that house amounted to $20,000?  Or more?  (With the way real estate has ballooned lately, let’s not assume its insignificant!)  Even assuming its just $20,000 and you spent $300 to have a consultation with an attorney where you were told that you DID have an interest in the home, you’ve netted yourself $19,700.

By any metric, that’s a good investment.  And, even if you didn’t uncover something that you didn’t know you were entitled to, you have that peace of mind, too.

I’m not even suggesting that you have to hire an attorney.  Many people don’t.  Plenty of people just consult with attorneys and either draft their own agreements, work with a mediator, or something else.  There’s more than one way to skin a cat, or so they say.

But it’s silly to not even try to verify what your entitlement might be before it’s too late – because you could really be selling yourself short.  Sometimes, I’ve seen women draft agreements so bad that, if their husband had an attorney who drafted an agreement on their behalf, it wouldn’t be as bad as what the wife wrote for herself.

Don’t do that!

For more information, to register for our low cost divorce seminar for women or to request a copy of our free Virginia women’s guide to divorce, give us a call at 757-425-5200 or visit us online at