Archive for the ‘alimony’ Category

Where to File for Custody and Support in Virginia

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

When separated spouses in Maryland and the District of Columbia require the aid of the court to resolve issues of support or custody they know where to file their case – in the local Circuit Court in Maryland and in Superior Court in the District of Columbia. And if they have been separated for less than the period required for an absolute divorce, they can include a request for limited divorce (legal separation in DC) in the support and/or custody suit.

Not so in Virginia. The circuit courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction, and are the trial courts preferred by lawyers, including family lawyers. But the court with jurisdiction of minors, including custody and support of minors, and support of spouses, is the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court (“JDR”).  Although a complaint for spousal support can be filed in Circuit Court without also seeking divorce, the Circuit Court only has concurrent jurisdiction over child support and custody matters if there is a divorce case pending.   And, unlike in Maryland and DC, when the spouses have been separated for less than the required period (one year in general, six months with a written separation agreement and no minor children), a complaint for limited divorce is often not an option because in Virginia there aren’t any no fault grounds for limited divorce (called divorce from bed & board or, in Latin, a mensa et thoro ).
In this situation, the spouse needing custody or child support relief faces a choice. He or she can:

1. File a petition requesting custody and/or support relief in JDR;

2. Assert fault grounds and file a complaint for divorce from bed and board and for the custody and/or support relief in Circuit Court; or

3. Wait the one year period and then file a complaint in Circuit Court for final divorce (called divorce a vincula matrimonii) on separation grounds and for the custody and/or support relief.
Each of these choices has advantages and disadvantages which I will address in my next post.

Pendente Lite Relief in Virginia

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

There are many divorce cases where only one spouse is employed and there are no significant liquid assets or those assets are all under the control of the employed spouse.

In such cases, the financially dependent spouse can seek an award of pendente lite support.  “Pendente lite” is Latin for “pending the litigation”.  It means temporary support until the divorce trial.

Pendente lite support hearings are short and the only issues considered are need for support and ability to pay.  Some jurisdictions have established guidelines for  pendente lite spousal support.

For example the Fairfax County formula is:

When child support is also payable – monthly spousal support equals 28% of the payor’s monthly gross income minus 58% of the payee’s monthly gross income.

When child support is not payable – monthly spousal support equals  30% of the payor’s monthly gross income minus 50% of the payee’s monthly gross income

Child support is generally determined under the child support guidelines. Those guidelines are also used to determine child support pendente lite.

Virginia Courts can also enter pendente lite orders on maintaining health insurance coverage for a spouse or children, responsibility for debt payments during the case, exclusive use and possession of the family residence during the case, payment of attorney’s fees and other costs of the suit, and custody of the children pendente lite . However, most courts are reluctant to rule on custody pendente lite.  This is because custody matters have scheduling priority and will soon be heard as a final matter so pendente lite relief is not necessary unless there is an emergency.  And the judges do not like emergencies, so if you claim you have an emergency it better be a real emergency.

The Court’s ruling on any issue at a hearing on pendente lite relief can be reviewed and modified at the final hearing.

Is Retirement Foreseeable?

Friday, May 4th, 2012

           The Court of Appeals of Virginia answered this question in the negative in Dailey v Dailey, 59 Va. App 734, 722 SE 2d 321, 2012 Va. App LEXIS 57. 

            The parties had an agreement that provided for alimony of $1,000 per month, modifiable upon a material change in circumstance.    The agreement was silent on whether Mr. Dailey’s retirement constituted a material change in circumstances.   The agreement was incorporated in the final decree of divorce entered in September 2009.

            In November 2010, Mr. Dailey retired, Ms. Dailey began receiving her share of the pension as agreed, $2900 per month, and Mr. Dailey moved to terminate or reduce spousal support.  The parties stipulated that the retirement was a material change in circumstances.  Ms. Dailey argued successfully that it did not warrant a termination or reduction of spousal support because while retirement was a material change, it was also one that was entirely foreseeable.  The trial court denied Mr. Dailey’s motion.

            The Court of Appeals agreed that retirement is foreseeable in the sense that most people eventually retire.  The court noted, however, that Mr. Dailey testified that he had no plans to retire at the time of the divorce.  And the Court reasoned that the effect of retirement was not necessarily foreseeable.  It was noted, for example, that the Agreement provided that Ms. Dailey would be paid her share of the retirement if, as and when Mr. Dailey’s pension was paid out, and that this particular pension plan had no survivor benefits if the participant died before retirement.

            The Court of Appeals held termination or reduction of spousal support upon retirement was not barred under the Agreement on the basis that retirement was foreseeable and therefore not a triggering material change in circumstances.  The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether or not to terminate or reduce spousal support.

            Does this mean that in the next Virginia case with a pension with a pre-retirement survivor’s benefit, the spousal support payer’s retirement, and its effect, will be foreseeable and therefore not grounds for a termination or reduction of support?   It is not clear.  Does this mean that a support payer with a pension cannot leave this issue open in the marital settlement agreements because of that risk? Probably so.  It is certainly something we will be looking at very carefully, and in appropriate cases,  negotiating what happens when the support payer retires.  This is especially important in a case like this one where, at the time of divorce, the payer had 29 years of creditable service, and he ended up retiring the very next year.

Alimony and the Use of Guidelines and Calculators

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

          Various alimony guidelines have been developed around the country.  The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) has developed a guideline that uses incomes and length of marriage to calculate the starting point for determining alimony.  The Kaufman guidelines, developed by a Michigan divorce attorney and initially published locally by the Montgomery County Commission for Women, use income, length of marriage, education, income potential and child custody to generate a  recommended amount and duration of alimony.  Last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals approved a trial judge’s reference to the AAML alimony guidelines for informational purposes in Boemio v Boemio, 414 Md. 118, 994 A.2d 911 (2010) . 

          In Virginia, the Fairfax County Circuit Court has by rule adopted guidelines for pendente lite alimony determinations.  It is commonly understood that those guidelines have some influence on final alimony settlements and determinations. 

          There may someday be statutory alimony guidelines in each state the way there are now statutory child support guidelines but it is not likely to be anytime soon.  The driving force behind the universal adoption of statutory child support guidelines was the federal interest in making child support more predictable and more collectible across state lines.   It does not appear there is any similar overriding federal concern with alimony.  So divorcing spouses and divorce lawyers will continue to settle alimony cases based on all the circumstances with non-statutory guidelines playing an increasingly important role in negotiations.  Those cases that do not settle will be tried before judges who may or may not consider the various guidelines in deciding the cases.

Alimony – the Most Unpredictable Issue

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

When alimony is at stake in divorce settlements and trials, it is the most unpredictable issue.  Unlike child support, which is determined under statutory guideline in all three local jurisdictions, and all the other states, alimony depends on “all the circumstances.”

The courts consider a whole range of factors in determining the amount and duration of alimony.   12 factors in Maryland, FL Article, Section 11-106(b); 13 spousal support factors in Virginia, Va. Code Sec 20-107.1.E.; and 9 factors in the District of Columbia, D.C. Code Sec. 16-913(d).  All three jurisdictions include a factor that amounts to anything else the judge decides it is appropriate to consider.

How can you be confident that you have fairly and appropriately settled your alimony case if the outcome is so unpredictable?  It can be difficult but there is some guidance.  First, some factors are more important than others.  Most divorce lawyers would probably agree that the difference in the spouse’s income is the most important factor in determining the amount of alimony.  Likewise most would probably agree that the length of the marriage is the most important factor in determining the duration of alimony.  My next post is about the use of alimony guidelines.

Life Insurance to Assure Payments to Former Spouse

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Recently I wrote regarding using life insurance to assure payment of child support.  Another scenario is life insurance to protect the alimony payment – the spouse being the beneficiary of the policy.  This is a straight forward consideration flowing from payer/insured spouse to payee/beneficiary spouse.  The insured wants less coverage and less premium, the payee/beneficiary spouse wants more coverage.

            Premiums on a policy of life insurance on the alimony payer benefit the alimony payee.  Payments to a third party on behalf of or for the benefit of a spouse or former spouse can qualify as alimony.  Paying insurance premiums can qualify if the payer spouse is not obligated to pay under the insurance contract – because in that situation he or she is not simply paying his or her own expense.  Generally, the owner of the policy is the person who is obligated to pay the premiums.  So in order for premiums on the life of the insured/alimony payer’s life paid by the insured/alimony payer to be deductible as alimony, the alimony payee must be the owner of the life insurance policy.  The parties’ Agreement should require the insured/alimony payer to pay the premiums on the payee’s behalf and the parties’ Agreement should state that such payments are alimony.

            Another situation where life insurance can be appropriate is to replace a survivor annuity if it is unavailable or available only on undesirable terms.  A traditional defined benefit pension pays a lifetime annuity to the retiree.  Federal law generally requires married persons to elect what is known as a joint and survivor annuity payment option, unless the employee’s spouse agrees otherwise in writing. In divorce, the parties can agree to a joint and survivor annuity or the court can order it.  Under this option, if the non-employee spouse survives the employee spouse, the pension payer continues the annuity payments at a reduced rate to the non-employee spouse for his or her life. 

            The initial payment (during the joint lives) under a single life annuity payment option is higher than the initial payment under the joint and survivor annuity option.  Depending on the amount of that payment reduction, it may make financial sense to elect the single life annuity and buy life insurance on the employee’s life to protect the income stream for the non-employee in the event that he or she is the survivor. The advice of an experienced life insurance professional can be very useful in doing this analysis.

 
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