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

Dividing Debt During Divorce in the D.C. Metro Area

Dividing Debt During Divorce in the D.C. Metro Area

As our federal legislators struggle to address the mounting federal debt, family law practitioners in the Washington, D.C. Area are treading softly with diverging treatments of family debt in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

The District of Columbia provides perhaps the clearest roadmap for dealing with debt in family law matters.  The District’s equitable distribution statute explicitly authorizes the valuation or distribution of “all property and debt in a manner that is equitable, just and reasonable, after considering all relevant factors…”  See DC Code § 16-910(b).  Dealing with debt is further simplified by the District’s property dichotomy: it recognizes only separate and marital property.

The state of Maryland is quite different.  Though case law broadly defines marital debt as debt incurred to acquire marital property and discusses using it to reduce the value of marital property for equitable distribution purposes, no express statutory authority exists to permit a court to allocate debt between the parties.  See generally Schweizer v. Schweizer, 301 Md. 626; 484 A.2d 267 (1984).  Instead, Maryland courts indirectly allocate debt under the State’s equitable distribution factors by considering “the value of all property interests of each party” and “the economic circumstances of each party at the time the award is made.”  Md. Fam. Law Code § 8-205(b)(2) and (3).

In 2011, the Virginia General Assembly changed how the Commonwealth dealt with debt.  One year prior, Gilliam v. McGrady, a 2010 Virginia Supreme Court case, briefly exempted debt from “typical” marital property presumptions (i.e. individual debts incurred during the marriage were presumed marital) and instead applied traditional guidelines that allocated the burden of proof (i.e. individual debts incurred during the marriage were presumed separate).  279 Va. 703, 691 S.E.2d 797 (2010).  This framework, however, necessarily required family law attorneys to introduce and work through scads of individual charge card statements in an attempt to shift that burden.  Thankfully, the General Assembly promptly responded to Gilliam by amending the equitable distribution statute in March of 2011 to include definitions of separate debt and marital debt, and clear presumptions regarding the treatment of same.

Jason A. Weis, Esquire – Curran Moher Weis P.C. – –  10300 Eaton Place, Suite 520Fairfax, VA 22030 – 571-328-5020

Differences in Divorce Law in Virginia, Maryland and D.C.

Differences in Divorce Law in Virginia, Maryland and D.C.


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 Weis P.C. – – 10300 Eaton Place, Suite 520, Fairfax, VA 22030 – 571-328-5020


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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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 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.