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

Virginia Family Law Blog: How Much Will My Divorce Cost?


Some Keys to Minimizing Your Attorney’s Fees

Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “You can catch more flies with honey.” Well, a recent study confirmed something many successful negotiators already know: flattery, even when feigned, has value. For example, tell someone you like the way they dress or think they are smart, and they are more likely to look upon you favorably, even if they know you are being insincere. This approach, reports Scientific American, works because it feeds into the “above average effect,” a view held by most people that they are above average (even though it is statistically impossible).

Marketers have also long embraced this practice. In a different study, researchers in Hong Kong asked subjects to rate the appeal of a hypothetical new department store after looking at a promotional advertisement that directly praised the reader’s fashion sense. Even after acknowledging the flattery’s transparency, subjects rated the store more positively and said they were more likely to shop there. If someone tells us we look good, research says, we believe it, even if the smooth talker’s motivation is clear.

Many elements impact the costs of a divorce. In nearly all cases, divorce attorneys bill by the hour. In Northern Virginia, the typical hourly rate for an experienced divorce attorney is between $250 and $650. The fewer issues on your proverbial “divorce table,” the fewer hours your attorney will require to assist you and the lower your costs will be. Choose carefully the issues you intend to “take to the mat;” consider when to use your attorney and when to simply play nice.  Pause and reflect for a moment before ending communications to your spouse with a pejorative comment or insult.  Reasonable disagreements arise during every divorce and attorneys can play an integral role in presenting you position to a judge for determination. But, many issues can be resolved quickly, cheaply and (somewhat) painlessly by simply being cordial.

Kindness, however, has its limits.  When your issues have been suitably limited, take a moment to examine your retainer agreement.  As a client (or potential client), it is unquestionably worth your time to read your retainer agreement and understand how you will be billed.  For example, many attorneys have minimum time charges for certain tasks like travelling to court, drafting pleadings, leaving voicemails and such. If your attorney bills in .2/hour increments, it behooves you to stockpile your daily divorce issues into a single email or telephone call as opposed to writing him/her five separate emails or calling many, many times. Do your own “grunt work” like typing and copying. Give your attorney comments in “soft form” so he/she can cut and paste them as appropriate.

There are many other ways to minimize your attorney’s fees and costs associated with divorce. If you have questions or comments about this topic, feel free to drop me a line.

Virginia Family Law Blog: Marital Waste


A recent New York Times article reconfirmed the findings of a 1998 study suggesting that when it comes to choosing a mate, people tend to gravitate toward a partner with spending habits opposite from their own. Researchers who analyzed several studies in which married couples were asked to describe their feelings about spending found that the more of a spendthrift or tightwad a spouse was, the more likely he or she was to have married someone with the opposite approach. That is, “tightwads,” who generally spend less than they would ideally like to spend, and “spendthrifts,” who generally spend more than they would ideally like to spend, tend to marry each other. This is consistent with the notion that adults are attracted to mates who possess characteristics dissimilar to those they deplore in themselves. Put more simply: each spouse hopes the other will balance out his/her spending habits. Alas, these findings were coupled with findings that these “financial opposites attract marriages” also result in conflict and little long term satisfaction.

Without question, financial issues can impact your marital relationship and in certain circumstances your spouse’s spending habits may be relevant in a divorce proceeding. The Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes the theory of “marital waste.” This is the notion that a party can squander or destroy marital resources, which must be replaced prior to property division. It typically occurs in anticipation of divorce or separation when one spouse exhausts marital funds for purposes unrelated to the marriage or in derogation of the marital relationship. Some specific examples of marital waste can include: (i) investing in speculative stock ventures; (ii) paying off gambling debts; (iii) fraudulently selling property (including the marital residence) below value; (iv) transferring sums to family members immediately prior to separation; (v) unreasonable entertainment expenses immediately prior to separation; (vi) loans or cash advances to a family member; (vii) monies paid in association with an extra-marital relationship; or (ix) monies paid in association with criminal activities.

If you would like to discuss marital waste and how it might relate to your pending separation, feel free to drop me a line.

Virginia Family Law Blog: “Virginia is for Lovers” – Proving Adultery


Proving Adultery in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Of the four fault-based grounds for divorce, adultery garners by far the most attention. Making the decision to pursue adultery as a grounds for divorce can be complicated for a number of reasons. This posting is not my attempt to flush out those considerations. Rather, it is my aim to examine methods used by attorneys to establish adultery, so you might better understand the relative merits of your claim.

If you don’t already know, adultery involves one spouse voluntarily having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his or her spouse. Along with adultery, sodomy (i.e. oral or anal sex with a person of the same sex, opposite sex or animal) and buggery (i.e. bestiality) are also fault-based grounds within this general category of fault. See Virginia Code Annotated Sec. 20-91(1). Adultery is also a Class 4 misdemeanor in Virginia. See Virginia Code Annotated Sec. 18.2-365. As a practical matter, this means that an adulterer and his or her significant other have a constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to refuse to testify about their illegal acts.

Unspurisingly, knowing adultery has occurred and persuasively proving it to a Virginia Circuit Court judge are two very different things. In Virginia, adultery must be proved by a “clear and convincing” standard of evidence. While that standard is lower than the classic “beyond a reasonable doubt” criminal standard, it is as high a standard as is available in a civil courtroom. In the face of both the Fifth Amendment denials and the high “clear and convincing” standard – and often without any direct evidence of adultery – successfully demonstrating what you believe has occurred may seem daunting. How do you demonstrate for a judge that your spouse has committed adultery? The answer: circumstantial evidence.

  • Did the adulterer say or write things to the paramour; were letters, notes, cards or e-mails exchanged between the adulterer and paramour? Attorneys can issue subpoenas to internet service providers and obtain existing e-mails. Introducing e-mails at trial can present certain evidentiary challenges, but the information they contain can be crucial to helping you frame your allegation and corroborate testimony. E-mails alone, however, do not prove adultery.
  • Did the adulterer use a cell phone to call his or her paramour? Attorneys can issue subpoenas to cellular phone service providers and obtain records of out-going and in-coming calls. (NB: Instant messages and text messages are typically not available via subpoena.) Phone records can demonstrate repeated calls to a suspected paramour and help establish the relationship. Suspicious, yes. But, like e-mails, phone calls alone do not prove adultery.
  • Did the adulterer use a credit or debit card to purchase meals, gifts, hotel rooms, plane tickets or other such itemsfor his or her paramour? Attorneys can issue subpoena to financial institutions and obtain records of charges made on selected accounts. Credit card statements can be used to establish where the adulterer was on any given day and on what he spent marital funds. Helpful, certainly. Definitive? No.

Individually, e-mails, phone calls and expenses may not suffice, but together you can use them to persuasively tell a “common sense story” of the illicit relationship. For example, e-mails may illustrate the early stages of a relationship, record day-to-day contact and certain activities a boyfriend and girlfriend might do together. Phone records showing frequent phone calls may further confirm the improper relationship and reflect calling patterns closer to what one might expect from a boyfriend/girlfriend. Charge account statements confirm the relationship still further by recording activities and supporting the notion that expenses incurred were consistent with traditional courting behavior. Circumstantial evidence of this sort, coupled with limited direct evidence (e.g. private investigator’s reports and pictures) and an adulterer’s less than credible attempts to rationalize the evidence, may suffice to demonstrate wrongdoing.

If you have questions about your adultery claim, feel free to drop me a line.

















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, P.C.
3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 100
Fairfax, Virginia 22030

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Phone: (571) 328-5020

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Legal Disclaimer

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.