Virginia Family Law
A Blog by Jason A Weis, Esq.
Virginia & Maryland Family Law Attorney

Virginia Family Law – Frequently Asked Questions: Spousal Support (Alimony)


Pretty woman1 150x150 Virginia Family Law   Frequently Asked Questions: Spousal Support (Alimony)Continuing in the series of frequently asked questions…

How can I get spousal support and how long can I receive payment?  

There are no hard and fast guidelines for determining either the amount or duration of spousal support in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Certain jurisdictions such as Fairfax County publish temporary (pendente lite) spousal support guidelines, which may be used to calculate support pending a formal, final support hearing.  The touchstone consideration for determining whether and how much spousal support may be required is one spouse’s financial need balanced against the other’s ability to pay.  If the divorce will leave one spouse with very little income and the other with sufficient income to contribute support, generally the court will award support. In the classic case, spousal support is awarded to a homemaker who has put his/her career on hold for the benefit of the family and paid by the wage-earning spouse who has worked during the marriage and enjoyed the benefit of a steadily increasing income.  In short-term marriages of say less than ten (10) years, that assistance may continue for a period equal to one-half the duration of the marriage.  That period is loosely calculated to enable the recipient spouse to further his/her education, receive job training and
reestablish him/herself in the workforce. For longer term marriages of say fifteen (15) years or more, such rehabilitation may not be possible and support may continue indefinitely.  No two parties’ circumstances are the same and thus support amounts and durations tend to vary.

What factors will the court consider when setting the permanent spousal support?

The following are some of the factors the court will consider in order spousal support:

  • The earning capacity of each party, including their education, skills and work experience;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The supporting party’s ability to pay;
  • The parties’ respective contributions to the marriage;
  • The needs of each party including the minor children;
  • The duration of the marriage; and
  • The tax consequences to the parties.

May I accept spousal support in a lump sum payment instead of a monthly payment?

Yes, you are free to accept spousal support in nearly any form you wish. Though accepting regular monthly payments for a specific duration is most common, spouses can agree to one-time, lump sum payments, transfers of assets or payment of certain expenses in lieu of “regular” support.  The parties may also agree that the support amount either increase or decrease over time to account for the recipient spouse’s financial needs.

If you’ve got questions about the information above, please feel free to drop me a line.  Jason A. Weis, Esquire – Curran Moher Weis P.C. – jweis@curranmoher.com – 10300 Eaton Place, Suite 520, Fairfax, VA 22030 – 571-328-5020.

Virginia Family Law – Property Settlement Agreements


pen signing document Virginia Family Law   Property Settlement Agreements Property Settlement Agreements (“PSA”), also called Separation Agreements, are typically omnibus, formal legal documents drawn to address the major tenants of an approaching divorce proceeding.  Ideally, these post-marital agreements, tackle all rights and obligations arising from the parties’ marriage to one another.  Those rights include, among other things, custody and visitation, child and spousal support and property division.   

 Married parties are free to contractually agree upon a resolution of their marital obligations at any time.  Their agreement need not be formal; a “back-of-the-napkin” agreement may prove just as enforceable as a professionally drafted agreement.  To be clear, however, PSAs are contracts and the same rules generally applicable to contracts apply to determine whether a PSA is valid.  In most cases, where an agreement is complete on its face and unambiguous in its terms, a court will uphold it unless fraud, duress or unconscionability exists.

The vast majority of divorce cases resolve with the signing of a PSA.  Why? 

  • The parties have the clearest sense of why their relationship ended and may best recognize how to serve not only their individual interests, but also the interests of their children.

 

  • The parties may appreciate how marital property was acquired or maintained and have equitable notions about how that property should be divided, notwithstanding what the law may provide. 

 

  • Compromise on both sides as directed by the parties (as opposed to a court) may yield an agreement both parties are more likely to honor.  Keep in mind that often the best agreements are those where neither party is particularly happy.

 

  • PSAs offer the prospect of a quick and cost-effective resolution to marital discord, particularly when compared with contested litigation.

 

  • PSAs can be incorporated into divorce decrees, which allows a court to enforce them by way of its contempt power.

 

  • PSAs allow the parties to reach agreements beyond what a court might be willing to address during litigation such as continuation of spousal and child support beyond statutory guidelines or inclusion of detailed visitation, communication and conduct guidelines. 

Though every agreement is separate and distinct, attorney written agreements often incorporate scads of boilerplate provisions that near-universally apply.  At Curran|Moher,P.C., our firm PSA language is quite lengthy; it is the product of continuous optimization and revision, made over the course of several decades of family law practice.  Over the weeks to come, I will address specific provisions that you might consider including in your PSA.  If you have questions about the drafting of a property settlement agreement, please feel free to drop me a line.

Jason A. Weis, Esquire – Curran|Moher P.C. – jweis@curranmoher.com – 3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 100, Fairfax, VA 22030 – 571-328-5020

Virginia Family Law: Divorce in the D.C. Metropolitan Area




funny couple disagreement Virginia Family Law:  Divorce in the D.C. Metropolitan Area Recently, I added the District of Columbia to Virginia and Maryland as locales where I am admitted to practice law.  In the D.C. Metropolitan Area, being barred in all three jurisdictions makes sense; while I am a native of Northern Virginia and my office is located in Fairfax, both Maryland and D.C. are less than 30 minutes away and I frequently receive calls from people who have family law issues touching all three locations.  Family laws are subject to the whims of local legislatures and thus, though they are often similar, they are certainly not identical across the three jurisdictions.  Some notable differences include:

 

·       In D.C. the age of majority for children is 21.  In both Virginia and Maryland the age of majority is 18;

 

·       In Maryland, the shared custody child support guideline takes effect when the non-primary custodian parent has the child for 128 days or more.  In Virginia, the shared custody guideline kicks in at 90 days or more.

 

·       Each state has its own child support guideline.  Maryland’s guideline was recently revised and, as a result, in most cases its the most generous;

 

·       In Virginia, alimony is terminable when the receiving spouse resides with a member of the opposite sex in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period in excess of 12 months.  Neither Maryland nor D.C. has such a statutory termination provision.

 

·       Both Virginia and D.C. have 12-month involuntary separation periods for divorce, but Maryland has a 24-month involuntary separation period;

 

·       Unlike Virginia and Maryland, in D.C. marital fault like adultery exists and can be considered, but it is not a ground for divorce; and

 

·       Unlike Virginia and Maryland, in D.C. property is categorized as either marital or non-marital.  There is no hybrid property in D.C.

 

Naturally, there are many, many more distinctions between the jurisdictions and, in certain cases, party agreements can render those distinctions meaningless.  If you have questions about the distinctions between family laws in Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia, feel free to drop me a line.

 

Jason A. Weis, Esquire – Curran|Moher P.C. – jweis@curranmoher.com – 3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 100, Fairfax, VA 22030 – 571-328-5020

Virginia Family Law – Alimony: How Long Am I Paying?


Man offering cash 150x150 Virginia Family Law   Alimony:  How Long Am I Paying?

“Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse.”
­— Groucho Marx, quoted in the New Haven Connecticut Register.

Not too long ago, Jennifer Levitz of the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “The New Art of Alimony,” which cited a series of complaints by alimony payers in Massachusetts and Florida.  One Massachusetts man bemoaned the plight of his second wife, who took on a second job to help her current husband pay alimony to his first wife.  Another man complained about being ordered to pay alimony two decades after the parties’ divorced – and after they formally agreed to waive alimony – because his former spouse had suddenly fallen ill. 

The crux of these collective grumblings was more the disconcerting duration of alimony than the amount of the payments, though amounts certainly matter.  Americans gave $9.4 billion to former spouses in 2007, up from $5.6 billion a decade earlier, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Men accounted for 97 percent of alimony-payers in 2008, though women-payers are steadily rising. 

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers provides a useful guideline for determining duration of spousal support:  “The duration of the award is arrived at by multiplying the length of the marriage by the following factors:  0-3 years (.3); 3-10 (.5); 10-20 years (.75); over 20 years permanent alimony.”  These general guidelines may be useful for framing an initial support discussion, but, like many things in family law, they are subject to a host of deviating factors. 

Spousal support is a significant part of any family law practice, particularly in Fairfax and Loudoun County, Virginia.  The U.S. Census Bureau reported that about 7 percent of divorce agreements provide for alimony or spousal-support payments.  In my practice, however, nearly all divorce agreements address spousal support and perhaps 75 percent involve a support payment by one spouse to the other.  If you have questions about spousal support, please feel free to give me a call.

Jason A. Weis, Esquire – Curran|Moher P.C. – jweis@curranmoher.com – 3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 100, Fairfax, VA 22030 – 571-328-5020

Virginia Family Law: Money May Buy You Happiness


Does your happiness have a price tag? It depends on how you define “happy,” says USA Today. Princeton economists recently analyzed the results of a Gallup poll that surveyed 450,000 Americans about their “happiness.” They measured it in two ways: their emotional well-being, as reflected in how much laughter, joy and relaxation they experienced in their day-to-day lives; and their overall life satisfaction, as reflected in how they felt about their jobs, homes, families and statuses. Not surprisingly, the economists found that concerns about money interfered with contentment; both types of happiness rose with income.

Interestingly, they also found that emotional well-being peaked at an annual income of about $75,000 – the point at which most people felt they had enough money to purchase their basic needs. As income levels rose beyond that point, people reported a higher level of over-all life satisfaction, but also a higher level of general concern. For example, going from a job that pays $75,000 to, say, $200,000 created what researchers termed “negative effects” – more responsibility, more pressure to perform and more stress. Thus, in a larger sense, the study found that money does not just buy happiness; money buys more worry, anxiety, and aggravation.

Money concerns permeate every divorce in Northern Virginia and families at all income levels shutter at the thought of budgeting their family’s monthly income for not one household, but for two. An award of spousal support can help ease that transition, but it is unrealistic to believe such an award will allow you to carry on financially as if nothing has changed. In Virginia, spouses entitled to support have the right to be maintained in the manner to which they were accustomed during the marriage, but their needs must be balanced against the other spouse’s financial ability to pay. The balance between “life style” and “financial ability” is difficult to strike. This is particularly true for many Northern Virginia families who earn six-figure incomes, but enjoy six-figure-plus lifestyles. Because Virginia’s spousal support statute requires a court to consider no less than 12 separate factors, spousal support awards are often widely divergent. This makes spousal support particularly well-suited for negotiation and, when necessary, zealous advocacy. If you have questions about spousal support, please feel free to drop me a line.

Virginia Family Law Blog: Spousal Support & Losing Your Job – Imputation of Income


It was big news when the national unemployment rate topped 10 percent, wrote David Paul Kuhn of The Wall Street Journal. What you may not realize, however, is that “male workers crossed this same threshold six months earlier,” with far less fanfare; the unemployment rate for men now stands at 11.4 percent. Never before has a modern-day U.S. recession “fallen more disproportionately on one gender.” This imbalance “is fundamentally a product of our times,” because some of the hardest hit corners of the economy, such as manufacturing and construction are “overwhelmingly male sectors.”

Nevertheless, the plight of jobless males has drawn only “limited attention” from Washington. In fact, stimulus dollars “were disproportionately away” from major new infrastructure spending, “in part, because women’s groups such as the National Organization for Women lobbied hard against the president’s proposed ‘shovel ready’ stimulus program.” As a result, nearly half of the jobs created by the stimulus spending went to women, which is “about twice women’s estimated job losses.” Men don’t need to start seeing themselves as victims, but they might soon consider demanding that a new jobs bill be structured “to address the wave of male unemployment.”

Paul Krugman of The New York Times adds an equally sunny statistic: “six times as many Americans are seeking work as there are job openings,” and the average time spent looking for work – more than six months – is the longest since the 1930’s.

Losing your job creates difficult issues during divorce. Perhaps the most prevalent of these issues is income imputation. This is the notion that a court may calculate support using the income amount you should be earning as opposed to the income you are actually earning. Support is driven by income; each party is obligated to earn as much as he or she can. A party cannot voluntarily reduce his or her income, but what does a court do with a party who has lost his or her job? The Antonelli case discusses this issue:

Any career change, any investment, is by nature a voluntary act. We do not perceive the law defining obligations of child support to be intended to frustrate ambition or enterprise. Therefore, we construe the term “voluntary act” to describe a willful act done for the purpose of frustrating the feasibility or enforceability of the support obligation. Thus, an applicant who shows a reduced ability to satisfy his obligation, which is not due to his wrongdoing, his neglect of his affairs, or his intentional diminution of his financial capacity other than in connection with a bona fide and reasonable business undertaking, is entitled to have that reduction considered along with the other usual factors, including his general earning capability, in determining his child support obligation.

Thus, when a party has recently lost his/her employment, the court will often look for wrongdoing or simple neglect. Where that party’s income has been reduced due to being fired for stealing, a court will likely impute to that party the income he or she would have earned prior to being fired. This concept creates a powerful disincentive for workplace tomfoolery. But, where a party has made a good faith change in employment with the hope of improving future income, a court will be far less likely to impute income. As an interesting corollary to this idea, high-earners should tread carefully when considering taking lower paying employment during divorce.

If you would like more information on these topics or tips on what to do if you have lost your job while contemplating divorce, feel free to drop me a line.

Virginia Family Law Blog: Your Wife Makes How Much?


“We’ve come a long way, baby,” said Tara Parker Pope in The New York Times. Nearly half a century since feminist pioneer Betty Frieden urged women to leave the home and pursue careers, full equality, it would seem, is finally within reach. A new analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center shows that women are now the main breadwinners in 22% of U.S. households, up from 7% in 1970, and that in nearly a third of marriages the wife is better educated than the husband. A separate study nearly mirrors those results. As reported on MSNMC.com, nearly 26% of wives now earn more than their husbands in households where both spouses work, up from 17.8% two decades ago. Among all married couples, 33.5% percent of the women make more than their husbands. Traditionalists have long predicted that the crumbling of old-fashioned gender roles would lead to the breakdown of the American family, but the opposite appears to be true. “The more economic independence and education a woman gains,” the Pew study found, “the more likely she is to stay married.”

Feminists can crow all they want, said Maggie Gallagher in the New York Post, but the real story here is “not that women are doing well, but that boys are doing badly.” The driving force behind the so-called “rise of the wives” is that this nation’s feminist-dominated education system is biased against boys and their different learning styles, leaving young men more prone to drop out of high school and forgo college, and thus less prepared to the job market. In the current recession, fully three-quarters of the jobs lost were lost by men, and today, only 40 percent of college graduates are male. These are truly alarming statistics, but in our politically correct culture, “every sign that boys or men are hurting gets turned around into a ‘happy news’ story of female success.”

“Are you kidding,” said Paula Dvorak in The Washington Post. “Things are sweeter than ever” for the average U.S. husband. Married American men are working less, living longer, and discovering that there are worse things in the world than having an ambitious spouse with a high-paying job. And they still do less around the house than women. For women like me, though, said Sandra Tsing Log in the New York Times, our new, post-feminist reality is a mixed blessing. Yes, I make more than the man I share my life with, and yes we share the housework after our long, exhausting workdays. But, no one meets us at the door with our slippers and a tray of martinis, ready to offer us “uncritical emotional support” while we both complaint about our day. What both I and my partner need is a wife – a role that’s “fast disappearing.” We’re all breadwinners now.

This article reminded me of an encounter I recently had during a trip to Florida. While perusing a flea market with my family, I happened upon a table of spirited, though elderly, rebel rousers distributing pamphlets and proclaiming alimony as akin to involuntary servitude. As a divorce attorney, I found these alimony protesters particularly interesting. I appreciated their half-baked constitutional arguments and enjoyed the fervor with which they vented about having to work into their old ages to support their former wives. What I probably enjoyed most, though, was the gentleman who informed me that women pay alimony too – “some women even earn more than men.” It was his pause for my reaction that I liked. The stare. The, “you heard me right son, they make more than us now.”

















About

My experience and background reflect the hallmarks of success one must demand of a lawyer in Northern Virginia's legal landscape.  As a native of this area, I have here focused my practice on providing sound and balanced representation to clients navigating the difficult legal waters of family law, including contested divorce, custody, visitation, spousal and child support, and equitable distribution.  More >>>

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Jason A. Weis, Esquire
Curran Moher Weis
10300 Eaton Place, Suite 520
Fairfax, Virginia 22030

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Phone: (571) 328-5020

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Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you find the information here as enjoyable to read as I find to write. Please note that reading this blog does not create a legal relationship between you and Jason A. Weis, Esquire or any other attorney associated with familylawva.com. Moreover, all postings on this blog are merely attorneys' commentary on the state of family law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. THE POSTINGS ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE – if you have a legal issue or question, I strongly encourage you to contact a lawyer. I would be pleased to refer you to someone if I am able.