You have invested a lot in your marriage, and you have a lot of shared assets and investments. There’s a lot at stake here, and it’s not just your finances. You’ve raised children together, and your relationship with them after all is said and done is pretty critically important, too.
Long term marriages are unique in a lot of ways. Because you’ve been together for such a long time, more of your assets and liabilities are commingled, which means that it is a little more complicated to separate everything. In twenty or more years together, you probably own a house (and maybe even a second or third home). You’ve supported him through different jobs, and probably even a career change or two. You’ve invested in him by supporting his career or hobbies by giving more of yourself.
There are a lot of ways that a divorce after a long term marriage is different than a divorce after a short term marriage. We’re going to talk about two big areas where we usually see differences in long term marriages: spousal support, child custody and visitation, just to give you an idea of how these things might work in your situation. Keep in mind, though, that no two divorces are exactly the same, so it’s always a good idea to talk to an experienced divorce attorney to determine how the law might be applied in your unique case.
To determine whether you would be awarded spousal support and for how long, you have to look at three things: (1) need versus ability to pay, (2) the statutory factors, and (3) the length of marriage. The first two factors, need versus ability to pay and the statutory factors, help determine whether an award of spousal support would be made. The third factor, length of marriage, determines two things: (1) whether an award of spousal support would be made, and (2) how long spousal support would be received.
The last prong of the test, length of marriage, is the most important. Because your marriage is long term, it does support an award of spousal support (assuming, of course, that the other two prongs of the test have been met).
The length of your marriage matters when it comes to determining how long your award of spousal support should be. Most Virginia judges and lawyers would agree that a long term marriage probably warrants a spousal support award (though, you should note that this is not the law, just a presumption) of between half the length of the marriage to permanent spousal support.
Child custody and visitation can be pretty different, depending on the age of your children. If your kids are over the age of 18, they’re no longer legally classified as children, and custody and visitation no longer applies.
Depending on the age of your children, different custodial and visitation arrangements are appropriate. For school aged children, you’re probably looking at some overnights and extended periods of uninterrupted visitation over the summer.
In some situations, it may be appropriate to let the child express a preference. There’s no specific legal age when a child can say whether he’d prefer to be in dad or mom’s custody. Virginia judges look at the specific child in question, and try to determine whether his age and maturity supports his preference. Sometimes, parents (especially parents who are trying to stay out of court) agree to let the child decide, mostly because they know that a child with a driver’s license is hard to keep in one place. It’s totally up to you how you decide to handle it, but it’s often best, if you have an older child, to at least listen to his preference before you make a decision.
Of course, not every divorce is the same, and your case may present unique issues. Because there is so much at stake financially, it’s important that you talk to a licensed Virginia divorce and custody attorney.