After devoting so much of your life to your marriage, it’s hard to imagine a new future for yourself. So many of your assets are things that were earned, purchased, or acquired during your marriage, so now they’ll have to be divided. It’s painful to see this happen, especially after all the sacrifices you’ve made to keep your marriage and your family together.
All divorces are different, but longer marriages have certain things in common. Two big areas where we usually see differences in longer term marriages (as opposed to shorter marriages) are in spousal support and child custody and visitation. Keep in mind that your situation may be a little bit different, and it’s always a good idea to talk to a divorce and custody attorney about your specific circumstances, and how the law might apply.
Spousal support is one of the more complicated areas of law, so you’ll probably need to talk to someone to find out if you qualify to receive it. When attorneys and judges talk about spousal support, especially when they’re determining whether a person is entitled to receive it, they are looking at three main criteria: (1) need and ability to pay, (2) the statutory factors, and (3) the length of marriage.
The length of marriage really matters when it comes to spousal support, because it helps to determine two things–whether you’ll receive support at all, and, if so, how long you’ll be entitled to receive support. The length of marriage is one of the statutory factors, but it’s important for another reason, too. Several years back, the legislature heard a proposal to make length of marriage a factor in determining how long a person would receive support. The proposal did not pass, but, because of that law, length of marriage has become an important determining factor when it comes to spousal support. Basically, it’s a presumption–but it’s an important presumption, because it helps lawyers and attorneys determine what is appropriate.
Again, though, you should know that this is NOT law, so it’s not set in stone. It’s just a presumption, so it’s possible that you could get more, but it’s also possible that you could get less–or not qualify for spousal support at all. However, the general presumption is that marriages of this length can qualify to receive support for half the length of the marriage. You should plan to talk to an attorney about your unique case, and, if there are any extenuating circumstances that entitle you to receive support for a longer period of time, you should certainly mention those to your attorney at that time.
Child custody and visitation can be pretty different, depending on the age of your children.
Different custodial and visitation arrangements are appropriate for children of different ages. For school aged children, you’re probably looking at some overnights and extended periods of uninterrupted visitation over the summer. For younger children, less time may be more appropriate, with that time expanding as the child gets older.
In some situations, it may be appropriate to let the child have a say. There’s no specific age at which a child can say whether he’d prefer to be in dad or mom’s custody, but courts look at the age and maturity level of the child. Sometimes, parents (especially parents who are negotiating an agreement together) 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 to hold on with an open hand.
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.