July 2018 Updates to Virginia Divorce and Custody Laws
Every year on July 1st, new changes to the law take effect. This year, many of those changes impact family law cases. If you’re currently going through (or expect to go through) a family law case, you’ll want to know about the changes to the law, and how they might impact your case.
It’s always a bit weird; what’s true on June 30th, is no longer true on July 1st. That’s part of the reason, too, why I always tell women that they should be very, very careful trusting that the information they’re getting online is up to date and Virginia specific. At this point, even stuff I’ve written on this site is outdated in some places! It was true when I wrote it, but if you go back 5 or 6 years (or, in our case, 14 days), things can change.
You’ll want to make sure, wherever you get your information, that it’s as recent as possible, and that it was written by someone you can trust. You’ll want a licensed attorney who practices in the state where your divorce or custody place is going to take place. Even if you’ve got a case in Maryland or North Carolina and somehow stumbled across our blog, you’ll want to find something that reflects more accurately the law where YOU live. Even though those states are geographically close to us, in many ways their laws are very, very different from ours. Don’t just assume it’s good enough or close enough; get the information from a reliable source in your state – oh, yeah, and make sure it’s up to date!
So, what changed in Virginia this year on July 1st? Answer: A WHOLE LOT!
The biggest changes have to do with spousal support. As you probably already know, there are pending changes with respect to the tax deductibility of spousal support awards for agreements and court orders entered after December 31st of this year. That’s not impacted by the changes here, and should still take effect – but that won’t be until the end of the year.
Beginning July 1st, modifiability of spousal support changed. The old rule was that a written agreement regarding spousal support was not modifiable unless the terms of the agreement allowed for modification. Now, written agreements regarding spousal support are modifiable unless the agreement specifically states spousal support is NOT modifiable.
Is that good? Bad? Well, it depends. It can be modifiable upwards – which is good – but it could also be modifiable downwards, which might be bad. It depends on your case, and the issues that might come up in the future.
I won’t lie, I prefer non modifiable support. (A bird in hand, you know.) It’s not that we can’t have non modifiable support anymore, it’s just that the agreement will have to specifically say that the spousal support award is intended to be non modifiable.
But why would a husband agree to that, unless he thought that you were going to get a job (or get a better paying job, or work more hours), or he was going to retire or somehow earn less in the future? There’s not much enticement for him to agree, for sure, so I do think that, practically speaking, we will see a lot more awards of spousal support that are modifiable.
Modifiability: Retirement in Litigated Cases
Another new change: When a spousal support award is made by the court, the order must state whether retirement was contemplated by the court and, if so, how that consideration would apply to modification. This change was made because, in so many recent cases, parties would argue that retirement WAS contemplated and therefore didn’t constitute a material change in circumstances for the purposes of modification, even though there wasn’t proof in the agreement or court order that retirement was considered.
Under the new legislation, child support guideline worksheets have to be filed with the court. This is so that the court can tell how a previously determined child support award was calculated.
In cases where mixed custody guidelines are applied (meaning that different children have a different number of days with each parent, as opposed to one standard that applies for all the children born or adopted of the marriage), there are now ways to calculate support with a consistent standard across the board. If yours is a more complicated custodial situation, this might apply, but in my experience very few families handle custody this way.
Custody and Visitation
The statute after July 1st will specifically say that the court must consider all potential custodial arrangements (sole, joint, shared) equally, with no preference being given to either. “There shall be no presumption in favor of any form of custody,” the statute provides.
This was enacted as a reaction to a different proposed bill, which would have required that joint legal custody automatically be considered. That part didn’t pass, but now the court must equally consider all forms of custody in each case. (Honestly? I wasn’t aware that this wasn’t already happening.)
Practically, I don’t think this statute will have any real impact – like I said, I was already under the impression that judges considered all the possible custodial scenarios equally, and ordered what they thought was most appropriate under the specific circumstances of each case.
This is a brief summary of some of the new laws going into effect on July 1, 2018. If you’re worried that your case may be impacted, or are wondering how new changes in the law may affect your ongoing case, feel free to give us a call at 757-425-5200 to set up a confidential appointment with one of our licensed and experienced (up to date on the changes in the law!) Virginia attorneys.