What is “status quo” in custody cases?

Anyone that has gone through a custody or visitation battle in court, or is about to, may have heard the term “status quo.” Status quo, in terms of custody and visitation, means the schedule the parties have been following prior to court. The court will consider what’s normal for the children and parents in setting a visitation schedule. So, if one parent leaves the home without the children, it is unlikely that parent will ultimately get primary physical custody.

Statutory Basis

The courts in Virginia have gone to great lengths to try and dispel the idea that status quo is a factor in determining custody and visitation. In fact, Virginia Code 20-124.3—the best interest of the child standard – does not mention status quo directly. However, it is disingenuous for the courts to claim that status quo does not play a part when so many elements of the Virginia Code 20-124.3 ultimately rely on the pattern the parties have been following prior to litigation.

In order to fully understand how status quo impacts what the court considers to be in the best interest of the child when determining custody and visitation cases, it is important to review all ten factors of Virginia 20-124.3; but the following weigh the most heavily:

 

  • Factor (3): Which deals with the relationship existing between each parent and child strongly relies on status quo. If one parent left the home, and other parent has been taking care of the daily needs of the child; that parent is going to have a different relationship than the parent that left the home. The court will strongly favor keeping the child with the parent who has been handling the day-to-day needs of the child;
  • Factor (5): The role that each parent has played and will play in the future again heavily relies on status quo. In the example where one parent leaves the home, the court is going to consider that parent’s role to have been minimal and, for continuity, work to give the child the same contact with that parent.
  • Factor (7): The ability of each parent to maintain a close relationship with the child also relies heavily on status quo. The court will consider that the parent who does most of the day-to-day care has the closest relationship with the child.

Separation Makes Time-sharing Difficult

Any parent who is going through a separation understands the harsh reality that equally splitting time with a child is difficult; especially when the parents are not getting along. In addition to the relationship factors, there are also financial issues that arise—it is not always possible for the parents to separate and then live close enough to exercise an equal custody arrangement. Transferring the children back and forth during the week may not be possible given the children’s school and extracurricular programs and childcare availability.

Parental Alienation Issues

The most frustrating situation is when one parent takes the children and leaves and then blocks the other parent from having time with the children. In these instances, even though the other parent is blocking access to the children, which would be relevant to Virginia 20-124.3(6), the court may still side with the offending parent based on the status quo. It is important that if you are being alienated from your child that you act quickly and get your custody and visitation case before the court before a new pattern or status quo is established.

Contact Melone Hatley, P.C.

The custody and visitation attorneys at Melone Hatley, P.C. have the experience necessary to help navigate you through all of these situations and ensure the best possible outcome for your matter. For more information about our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 in northern Virginia or 757-296-0580 in Virginia Beach or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com. You can also schedule a time for a free consultation with one of our attorneys online at www.melonelawpc.com/contact.

Can You Be Fired For Taking Paternity Leave?

The short answer, unfortunately, is yes. A new ruling out of New York makes it clear that federal protections under Title VII are gender specific and only designed to apply to “a pregnant employee.” In the case of Van Soeren vs. Disney Streaming Service, a male employee of Disney claimed that he was subject to harassment and mistreatment from his co-workers after they found out his wife was pregnant. After taking his approved paternity leave, he was ultimately fired. US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, a Clinton appointee, held that the plaintiff didn’t have standing as discrimination suits under Title VII are designed to protect “pregnant” employees. It does not protect spouses of pregnant parties.  Neither does it protect adoptive parents.

An Unfair System

This ruling not only limits Title VII protections based on gender, but also disqualifies adoptive parents. The ruling highlights the unfair treatment of new parents based on gender or adoptive status. Fathers are currently provided significantly less paternity leave, and are often limited to unpaid leave. According to the Department of Labor, only 13% of men who took paternity leave were offered paid paternity leave and 70% of fathers who took time off, took less than 10 days[1]. Fathers or adoptive parents may be less inclined to take family leave if they know they can be penalized when they return to work.

Hurting Families

During an essential time in a child’s development, limiting time with new parents can be damaging. Time at home is essential for parents to bond with their children as well as for the child’s healthy development. One study found that the fathers who took more than two weeks off for paternity leave were much more engaged with care of the children after nine months[2]. It has also been demonstrated that when fathers are more engaged in the care of their children it leads to improved cognitive and mental health of the child[3].

While companies have made great progress in providing maternity and paternity leave for expecting parents, this is a sign that there is a still a lot of work that needs to be done in our courts and legislative branches to ensure expecting parents enjoy equal rights under the law. Limiting protections under Title VII to “pregnant” employees has an extremely unjust result to fathers and adoptive parents and can negatively impact children.

About Melone Hatley, P.C.

Melone Hatley, P.C. is a general practice law firm with offices in Reston and Virginia Beach. Our practice areas include Family Law, Divorce and Special Needs Children, Traffic Ticket Defense, DUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 in northern Virginia or 757-296-0580 in Virginia Beach or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com. You can also schedule a time for a free consultation with one of our attorneys online at www.melonelawpc.com/contact.

 

[1] https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OASP/legacy/files/PaternityBrief.pdf
[2] Nepomnyaschy and Waldfogel (2007) at 442-45
[3] Huerta, et al (2013); Nepomnyaschy and Waldfogel (2007); Anna Sarkadi, et al. 2008. “Fathers Involvement and Children’s Developmental Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies.” Acta Pediatrica 97: 153-158; Erini Flouri and Ann Buchanan. 2002. “The Role of Father Involvement in Children’s Later Mental Health.” Journal of Adolescence 26: 63-78.

What Can I Do About a False CPS Report?

In contested family law matters, CPS often gets involved where there are concerns of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of children. CPS takes reports from family members, as well as other members of the community anonymously and for any reason. Most frequently reports are made by family members, neighbors, friends, educators, and even acquaintances. Unfortunately the majority of cases turn out to be the result of misinterpretation, or, outright fraud.

When parents are going through a family law dispute, it’s difficult to know what may be occurring in the other household. Young children may make statements that lead a parent to believe some abuse may be occurring, or there may be other sources of information such as mutual friends and extended relatives. However, some parents attempt to utilize CPS in order to obtain sole custody based on false allegations of abuse or mistreatment of a child. In those situations, there are remedies available to those who have been falsely accused.

What is the Role of CPS in Family Law Cases?

CPS workers investigate complaints regarding abuse, neglect, or other mistreatment of children. Generally, caseworkers will do their best to determine whether or not a child is in any risk of harm before making a determination and report. If there is an immediate risk of harm, CPS will ask the court to intervene to place the child somewhere safe on a temporary basis. Investigations can result in allegations being determined to be “founded” or “unfounded.”  If allegations are “founded” CPS will frequently ask the parties to enact a safety plan or will take further action in the Court if necessary.

CPS reports and testimony from caseworkers may be involved in a future custody hearing, so caseworkers will take detailed notes, pictures, and will clearly state their opinion regarding their investigation in the report.

If you are being investigated by CPS, you should do your best to remain calm and polite to the caseworker. Refusal to provide information can result in action being taken against you in the future. If you have questions or concerns about the investigation, you will want to contact your attorney right away. Remember, the CPS caseworker is there to represent the interests of the child and make a report; they are not able to provide you with any legal advice or representation. You have the right to have your attorney present with you during interviews with CPS, although it is not required.

What happens if allegations are “unfounded”?

Unfortunately, most allegations are determined to be unfounded.  If your case is determined to be unfounded, you have the right to petition CPS to provide information on the individual who made the report against you. In Virginia, knowingly providing a false report of child abuse or neglect is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, meaning the accuser could face up to 12 months in jail and pay up to $2,500 in fines.  A second offense increases to a Class 6 felony if convicted. If a conviction is made for a false report, you may request to have CPS destroy their records of the investigation.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a general practice law firm with offices in Reston and Virginia Beach. Our practice areas include Family Law, Divorce and Special Needs Children, Traffic Ticket Defense, DUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about CPS investigations and our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 in northern Virginia or 757-296-0580 in Virginia Beach or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com. You can also schedule a time for a free consultation with one of our attorneys online at www.melonelawpc.com/contact.

 

 

The Other Parent Won’t Let Me See My Child; What Can I Do?

Withholding of a child from visitation from their other parent can be a serious factor for the court to consider in any custody or visitation case. In some situations, the court will intervene by either changing custody completely, or by ordering re-unification therapy for the child and the other parent. You have different remedies available depending on the procedural status of your case and relationship with the other parent.

During a Divorce

If you and your spouse have initiated a divorce case in the Circuit Court, you can request a temporary hearing on custody and visitation, known as a pendente litehearing. Any orders made at this stage are meant to be temporary, and can be modified in the future if there are any material changes in circumstances. Ordinarily, a pendente liteorder will remain in effect until the parties go to trial and get a final determination. However, if one party refuses to comply with the pendente liteorder and withholds the child from the other parent, the court may modify its temporary order.

Decisions made during a pendente litehearing follow the same standard for custody and visitation as a full trial. The court will consider the factors of Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 in making its determination. One of the most important factors for many courts is found at subsection (6) and states the court will consider: “®he propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child.” While this is only one of the factors listed, many judges weight it more heavily than other considerations such as the role each parent has played in the child’s upbringing.

During a Custody & Visitation Case

For parties that are not married, they can file for temporary custody and visitation with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Once a custody and visitation petition has been filed, either party may request a temporary hearing while the case is pending. Again, any order made is usually in effect until the final trial. The court will follow the same standards of Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 in making a temporary determination.

Once there is a final order in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, the parties each have the option to note an appeal to the Circuit Court within 10 days. In the appeal, the court will hold a new trial and follow the same standard.

After Your Case

Once you have a final decision from either the Juvenile or Circuit Court, you have the ability to enforce it against the other parent through the court as well as through law enforcement. If the other parent refuses to let you have your scheduled visitation, you can file a petition for a Show Cause, requesting the court hold the other parent in contempt for not complying with the order. In a Show Cause, the court can award sanctions, jail time, and attorney’s fees against a noncompliant party.

Once you have a court order you also have the option to request law enforcement assistance if the other parent refuses to turn over the child for your scheduled visitation. Law enforcement is able to take action based on valid court orders only and cannot intervene if there is no order in place. If the noncompliance is severe enough, the other parent can face charges for parental kidnapping as well.

If the other parent continually refuses to allow scheduled visitation or interferes in your custodial time, you have the option to request a modification of your current court order. A modification case requires a showing that a material change in circumstances has occurred since entry of the last order. A parent’s withholding of a child or alienation of a child can be enough to demonstrate such a material change.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a general practice law firm with offices in Reston and Virginia Beach. Our practice areas include Family Law, Divorce and Special Needs Children, Traffic Ticket Defense, DUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about our parental alienation and our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.

 

 

 

What is Family Law?

What is Family Law?

Our firm focuses primarily on the practice areas of family law and estate planning, but often non-lawyers will ask “what is ‘family law’ anyway?” It encompasses a broad spectrum of practice areas from divorce to custody and everything in between.

Divorce

The most frequent type of family law case is divorce, in which married people seek to divide assets and liabilities and determine custody, visitation, and support of minor children. Some cases are contested, meaning the case has to be heard and decided by a judge, while others are uncontested, meaning the parties are able to work out an agreement without court intervention.

If a case is uncontested, it can be finalized relatively quickly once the separation period requirement is met. Parties with no minor children who sign a separation agreement must be separated for 6 months prior to filing for divorce. Parties with minor children must be separated for 1 year prior to filing for divorce.

Annulments

In very rare situations, married couples may be eligible for an annulment rather than a divorce. In order to be eligible for an annulment, a spouse must be able to prove one of the following legal grounds: bigamy, incest, incompetence, fraud, impotence, underage, felony, duress, sham marriage, or pregnancy by another person within 10 months of the marriage. Because the grounds are so limited, most marriages are terminated by divorce rather than annulment.

Child Custody & Visitation

In cases where parties have children together but are not married, they can petition the court to set custody and visitation arrangements for the minor children. Custody determinations will include legal custody, meaning who can make legal decisions regarding the child, as well as physical custody, meaning where the child lives the majority of the time. Custody and visitation cases can be modified in the future when there is a material change in circumstances.

A visitation matter will determine where, when, and for how long the child spends time with each parent. In most circumstances where parents live close to one another, the child will spend time with each parent during the week. If parents live further apart, the court may order more visitation time be spent during breaks from school rather than on a weekly basis. Part of the visitation order should include how transportation will be accommodated and who is responsible for payment of any travel costs.

Child Support

Child support can be set in a divorce matter, or in a case where the parties were not married, it can be determined in the juvenile and domestic relations court as a separate matter. Even if parties have an agreement regarding child support, the court will usually apply the statutory guidelines for support.

In some cases, there is a good reason to deviate from the guideline amount of child support. If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, for example, the court may order a higher amount of support than would be paid under the guidelines. If one parent moves far away and visitation will require air travel, the court can consider the costs of accommodating visitation into a deviation from the support guidelines.

Paternity

If a child’s parentage is in question or has not yet been determined, the court will order genetic testing to determine paternity. Opening a paternity matter enables the parties to petition for other related matters, such as custody, visitation, and child support. Once paternity is determined, both parents have an equal right to the child unless and until the court makes a custody order.

Spousal Support or Separate Maintenance

In some situations, parties may not have a ground for divorce yet, but are in need of financial support. They can petition for spousal support through the juvenile court, or make a suit for separate maintenance in the circuit court. Both of these matters can be determined without a divorce case and without making any other determination regarding division of the parties’ assets or liabilities.

Some spouses prefer to avoid filing for divorce for religious reasons. In such a situation, they can still petition and enforce a court order for support from their spouse.

Prenuptial Agreements

Parties can make agreements prior to marriage that determine the legal rights between them. These agreements can include terms for how the parties may pursue a divorce, what remedies may be sought, and limitations on financial awards. If a spouse has substantial pre-marital assets, a separate business interest, or other property, it’s advisable to have a prenuptial agreement in place. A prenuptial agreement can also modify each spouse’s right to inherit from the other and will often be drafted alongside other estate planning documents.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a family and estate firm serving Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about estate planning, contact our Reston office today at 703.995.9900 or Virginia Beach at 757.296.0580 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.

Divorce During COVID-19

Divorce During COVID

For couples that were facing separation and divorce before the stay-at-home order, Executive Order 55 added complication to the separation process. In order for couples to divorce based on separation in Virginia, they must have been living separate and apart for 6 months or 1 year before filing, depending if they have minor children or not.

Separation

In Virginia, separation requires physical separation and can include time spent under the same roof as long as the parties are truly living separate and apart. It can be difficult to demonstrate separation to the court when parties are still living in the same home and acting as a family unit. Some factors that may help to show separation include separating financially, purchasing separate groceries, and living in separate areas of the home. During the current stay-at-home order, it may be difficult for couples to set strong boundaries in place to initiate or continue separation.

The Divorce Process

Many divorce cases can still move forward so long as they are completely uncontested, meaning the parties have reached an agreement regarding custody, visitation, support, asset division, debt division, and any other necessary terms from the relationship. It can be difficult for couples to unwind their shared interests in an equitable way on their own when there is so much emotion involved.

For those that cannot reach an agreement, the next option is to file a divorce case and request the court make a temporary order while their case is awaiting trial. During the current court closure, these motions will not be heard unless there is an emergency involved. A party can still file their divorce and temporary motion, but they will not be able to get a ruling from the court for several weeks once they are able to set a hearing.

This slowdown in the process can create a financial or other hardship for couples facing divorce. Deciding who is responsible for payment of joint expenses, setting temporary child or spousal support, and a temporary custody schedule is already complicated enough without adding limited court availability.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

For those that may be close to reaching an agreement, or that just need some guidance in the process, mediation may be an option to move their case forward. Mediation is the process of negotiating a case with the assistance of a neutral third party, called a mediator. Most mediators are retired judges or attorneys who have decades of experience. Each party usually has their own representation and their own attorney during the mediation process. Mediators all have their own process, but most frequently the parties all meet together before splitting into separate rooms with the mediator traveling back and forth making offers.

The mediator cannot offer either party legal advice, which is why bringing your own attorney can make all the difference in ensuring a fair outcome. The mediator’s job is to find a middle ground between each party’s position and facilitate the negotiations to a meeting point. Most mediators take one issue at a time and work to resolve each one, creating a full written agreement at the end of the session.

Mediation can have a number of benefits over litigation so long as both parties are willing to participate in the process. Some benefits of mediation include:

  1. Creative Solutions: The courts are limited in following judicial precedence to make orders. In mediation, couples can reach more creative, flexible, agreements that would not be ordered by a court.
  2. Save Embarrassment: Any matter in the Circuit Court is public record. That means everything in the court file and everything said during a hearing could be overheard or used for other reasons in the future. For cases involving sensitive issues, parties may benefit from keeping the process private through mediation.
  3. Save Time and Cost: Parties that reach an agreement in mediation can move forward with their case once they have a signed agreement. The court will still process uncontested divorces. An uncontested divorce will be substantially less expensive than a contested case to finalize as well.

If you are facing separation and divorce during COVID-19, it may be best to seek legal counsel now to discuss your options in detail before taking any action. You want to ensure your rights are protected and your case will be successful once it can move forward.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a family and estate firm serving Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about estate planning, contact our Reston office today at 703.995.9900 or Virginia Beach at 757.296.0580 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.

Custody Exchanges During COVID-19

In Executive Order 55, Governor Northam issued a stay-at-home order for all non-essential purposes and limited social gatherings to less than 10 people in Virginia. The order specifically addressed child custody and visitation, stating that individuals may “leave their residence for purposes of … traveling required by court order or to facilitate custody, visitation, or child care.”

Regular Visitation

If you have an order in place for a visitation schedule, you should continue to abide by it to the extent possible. When arranging for custodial exchanges, all recommended CDC guidelines should be followed. For those that ordinarily exchange their children in a public location, parents should use caution and select a location that will minimize contact with the public. Both parents should use every precaution to make sure the child’s belongings have been and remain properly sanitized before entering the house.

If you do not yet have a custody order in place, you can still travel in order to facilitate visitation time for the other parent. You should continue to follow the status quo for the child, as their schedule has likely already been interrupted.

When Can Visitation be Denied?

In certain situations, such as those involving long-distance travel or high-risk employment, it may be reasonable to modify or suspend visitation. Remember to communicate clearly with the other parent prior to making any change to the custodial schedule. It’s best to document your communication or attempt at communication in a written form such as text or email. Remember that any violation of the court’s current order can be a basis for contempt later on. With that in mind, you should take whatever action is necessary to ensure the child is best protected from any risk of harm.

If visitation requires air travel or lengthy car travel, it may not be reasonable to subject the child or the parents to all of the potential exposures along the way. Parents can work to find alternative travel dates in the summer or fall to make up for lost time. If parents can agree to a change, they should document it in writing.

If a parent is employed in a high-risk industry, they need to take every precaution to ensure they are not exposing the child to any unnecessary risk. Those in the healthcare field have been recommended to leave their shoes outside, shower, and wash all clothing and everything else at the end of their shift before having any contact with family members or any household items.

If a child is at high-risk of infection or has significant underlying health problems, it may be necessary to suspend in-person visitation with a parent in a high-risk industry. You should be sure to provide phone, Skype, or Facetime availability for the child with the other parent. If the other parent does not agree to a suspension of visitation, it may be best to file a request for an emergency modification with the court.

Enforcement Issues

For those attempting to enforce their current orders or make changes to their visitation schedule, their options will be limited for a few weeks. On March 27, 2020, the Virginia Supreme Court extended its declaration of a judicial emergency and ordered the closure of its courts through April 26th. It’s likely that this deadline will be extended further into May. Some local courts have already announced closures extending into early May.

As a result, only those custody matters that qualify as an emergency can be brought into court for a hearing. Emergency matters are those where the child’s health, safety, or welfare is at risk of immediate harm or threat of immediate harm. The child must be present in the Commonwealth of Virginia in order for the court to take jurisdiction. Emergency jurisdiction is only temporary until the child’s home state can act. In an emergency case the court can order custody be granted to any interested party, including extended family members, on a temporary basis to ensure the child’s safety.

Melone Law, P.C.

While this is an extremely uncertain time it’s important to continue following any orders or agreements you have in place. Eventually, the court will resume its normal schedule and you don’t want to face contempt for violating any court orders. If you have specific questions about your case, contact one of the attorneys at Melone Law PC in our Northern Virginia office at 703-995-9900 or Virginia Beach at 757-296-0580.

 

Is Mediation Right for My Case?

Is Mediation Right for My Case? 

The divorce process can be unfamiliar, stressful, and painful during an already difficult time in your life. Facing the legal system for the first time while dealing with personal affairs can add complication. Cases that go through litigation often take months, or even years before they are resolved. Along the way are numerous motions, exchanges of documents, investigations, and lots of back and forth between attorneys. The system is means to be adversarial, which can make it difficult, if not impossible, for parties to continue to work together to co-parent their children or deal with joint assets or other family affairs as necessary. 

Most parties end up settling their divorce case before they ever go to trial whether it’s through mediation, negotiation, or another alternative dispute resolution effort. Parties who see the potential of mediation can benefit financially and emotionally from resolving their case more quickly and fairly than it may end up in court. 

What is Mediation?

Mediation is the process of negotiating a case with the assistance of a neutral third party, called a mediator. Most mediators are retired judges or attorneys who have decades of experience. Each party usually has their own representation and their own attorney during the mediation process. Mediators all have their own process, but most frequently the parties all meet together before splitting into separate rooms with the mediator traveling back and forth making offers. 

The mediator cannot offer either party legal advice, which is why bringing your own attorney can make all the difference in ensuring a fair outcome. The mediator’s job is to find a middle ground between each party’s position and facilitate the negotiations to a meeting point. Most mediators take one issue at a time and work to resolve each one, creating a full written agreement at the end of the session. 

Mediation can have a number of benefits over litigation so long as both parties are willing to participate in the process. 

Creative Solutions

In court everything is left in the hands of a judge, who doesn’t know the whole history of your relationship, your family, or what’s best overall for your situation. Judges are limited to following the relevant case law and statutes, and aren’t able to use creative solutions to most problems. Judges can only consider the evidence before them, meaning that hearsay or other evidence may be properly excluded from consideration. Mediators, on the other hand, can help parties find solutions that work for them, even if they wouldn’t be ordered in court. Mediators can hear all kinds of evidence, including evidence that may not be admissible in a trial as hearsay. Parties that reach a resolution through mediation are more likely to follow through on their obligations, since they found the terms agreeable to begin with. 

In cases involving custody, flexible solutions can make all the difference in the parties’ ability to co-parent moving forward. Courts offer more traditional visitation schedules, meaning one party usually gets alternate weekends and a midweek evening visitation. That schedule is not ideal for most families, especially where parents have been sharing custodial responsibilities equally. Agreements made outside of court offer both parents more time and flexibility, which can make co-parenting together easier after the case is over.   

Save Embarrassment

Everything filed in court is a public record, and absent special circumstances, anyone can watch a trial in a Virginia Circuit Court. Usually the circumstances leading to a divorce are quite private, and can be embarrassing, which can motivate a party toward settlement. 

The grounds for divorce in Virginia are limited to cruelty, desertion, adultery, felony conviction, or separation. Contentious cases will involve detailing private, painful events from the parties’ history in order to obtain a divorce. Mediation offers confidentiality for both sides while still offering an opportunity for each party to share their story. 

Save Time

Parties that want a quicker resolution of their case can benefit from mediation. In a litigated case, there are certain waiting periods and filings that are required before hearing dates can be set. Depending on the court’s availability, a hearing may not be scheduled for several months, leaving the parties in limbo in the meantime. Many divorce cases take at least a year before they are set for a trial, which can create financial and emotional stress on both sides. 

Save Costs 

On it’s face, it would appear mediation is expensive. Mediators don’t work for free, and often have comparable or higher fees than most attorneys. Having each side hire their own attorney and covering the cost of the mediator would appear more expensive than going to court, however, in most cases it is substantially cheaper. 

Going through mediation means skipping a lot of the procedure, and accompanying attorney’s fees, that go into most cases. One of the most expensive processes is discovery, where parties request and exchange financial and other documents that may be relevant to their case. By going through mediation, evidence can be offered and exchanged informally. 

Preparing and conducting a trial is a huge expense. Having an attorney spend hours of preparation and ensuring that all evidence is presented properly can mean serving subpoenas, bringing in (and paying for) experts to testify, along with preparing and researching the relevant case law.

Consider Mediation

Divorce is an emotional time and it’s easy to make mistakes that may come back to haunt you in the future. Keep a level head and consider all of the options available to you. Consult your attorney and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Being thorough now will make your life much easier after the divorce is final. 

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a general practice law firm based in Virginia Beach and Reston.  Our practice areas include Family LawDivorce and Special Needs ChildrenTraffic Ticket DefenseDUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about divorce, separation agreements, and our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com

We’re Separating… Do I Need a Parenting Plan in Virginia?

A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents who are divorcing, or maybe have never been married but no longer wish to live together, that outlines the responsibilities and expectations for custody, visitation, financial obligations, and other parenting issues that may be specific to your situation. Though often included as part of a separation agreement, a parenting plan is not a requirement for separation or divorce in Virginia.  An experienced Virginia family law attorney can help you put a parenting plan together that is fair, covers the specific needs of both parents and the minor children, resolves problems, and avoids bitter and expensive custody disputes.  A parenting plan also allows you to avoid the scenario in which a judge makes decisions for you.  If you can work through these issues now, you can avoid time-consuming and costly litigation in the future.  It may also help you maintain a better relationship with your children’s other parent.  All parenting plans should take into consideration:

  • The best interests of the children
  • The importance of consistency in your children’s lives in both parents’ homes, and maintaining scheduled activities, like sports, recitals, school activities, and time with friends.
  • Keeping the lives of your children as normal as possible during a time of fear and change, going forward.
  • The continued healthy development of the children.

What is included in a parenting plan?

At the very least a parenting should outline the following in as much detail as possible:

  1. Legal custody – Who has the responsibility to make decisions for your children? This includes major decisions about health care, religion, vaccinations, and education, but also can include other issues like recreation or ear piercing.  Legal custody can be joint (both parents have the authority to make decisions) or sole (only one parent has the authority to make decisions.)  If a parent has sole custody, the plan should also specify what legal issues the other parent will be advised or consulted about.
  2. Physical custody – Where is the child’s primary residence? Again, physical custody can be sole or joint.
  3. Visitation – When and how much time will the child spend with the noncustodial parent? This includes the division of holidays, vacation times, summers, and special events. A parenting plan should include a schedule with calendar dates and times and specific drop off/pick up arrangements.  It may also include transportation costs if parents do not live close to each other.
  4. Changes/delays – How will a parent be notified if there is a change to the visitation schedule? For instance, if your child has a sleep-over at a friend’s house during visitation.
  5. Financial obligations – Who is responsible for which expenses of raising a child? This includes child support, childcare costs, medical care and health insurance, school tuition, college, music lessons, extra-curricular activity expenses, etc.
  6. Communication – How will the parents communicate with each other and with their children? How will they resolve conflicts and disputes?  This includes detailing how and when new significant others should be introduced into the lives of your children.
  7. Modifications to the plan – What happens to the parenting plan in case of remarriage, income increases or decreases, or relocation? The parties should include procedures for modifying or reevaluating the plan if/when circumstances change.  It is important that the agreement be both durable and flexible so that it can accommodate change when needed.

A Virginia parenting plan should allow both parents to maintain an active role in the lives of their children. It should also provide both parents with a clear understanding of their rights and obligations after the divorce.  It is specific to your unique situation and tailored to meet the needs of both parents and children.  If parents can’t reach an agreement on a parenting plan, the court will reach one for them.  In doing so, the judge, by law, must consider only the needs and best interests of the children.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a general practice law firm and serves Virginia Beach and the Northern Virginia area.  Our practice areas include Family LawDivorce and Special Needs ChildrenTraffic Ticket DefenseDUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about parenting plans, separation agreements, and family law, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 in Northern Virginia or 757.296.0580 in Virginia Beach, or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.

Working Through the Unique Issues of a Grey Divorce

Even though the U.S. divorce rate has pretty much leveled off and even decreased over the past two to three decades, the divorce rate for couples over 50 years of age has increased dramatically and now accounts for over 25% of all divorces.  There are many factors that may help explain the rise in “grey divorce.”  Some likely reasons include:

Growing apart – After a long marriage, couples feel they don’t have much in common anymore and have different interests and goals.  People expect more of marriage today.  Sticking it out in an unfulfilling marriage, just for the sake of being married, has become passe‘.

Improved health and longer life expectancy – People are living much longer than they did even 50 years ago, and they’re healthier and active.  A divorce at 55 or 60 isn’t the end.  It’s often the beginning of a new and interesting chapter of one’s life and seniors are ready and willing to take action to pursue a more fulfilling life.

According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration as of 2016:

  • A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
  • A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.
  • About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90.
  • One out of 10 will live past age 95.

Opportunities to Date – Divorced seniors are entering the dating scene at unprecedented numbers, looking for new opportunities to socialize and meet new people who share their interests.  Online dating is surging in popularity for those over 50.

Women are financially independent – Women over the last 20-30 years have been in the workforce and led more independent lives.  They’ve had or may still have a career, other than motherhood, and don’t have to rely on their husbands for money.  Husbands are no longer the sole breadwinner in the family.  Women have much more financial stability as they age.  They have good salaries, retirement accounts, pensions, 401k accounts and are much more able financially to leave an unsatisfying marriage.

Critical issues to consider in the Grey Divorce

When younger couples divorce, the main issues are usually child custody and support, visitation, spousal support (alimony), and division of property.  No matter why you’re seeking a divorce later in life, the fact is the longer a couple is married, the more complex the issues surrounding their divorce will be.  The division of marital assets can be significantly more complex and complicated during divorce proceedings.  The Commonwealth of Virginia is an equitable distribution state.  That does not mean property is split 50/50.  Equitable means fair, not even.  It is important that you speak with an experienced Virginia family law attorney to ensure that your divorce gives you the new life you are planning for.  Here are the issues and financial challenges a knowledgeable Virginia divorce attorney can work through with you:

  1. Income and spousal support: How will each spouse maintain an income stream that meets their circumstances?  Will it require rejoining the workforce, delaying retirement, paying or receiving spousal support, or splitting a fixed income, like a pension, if you’re retired?
  2. Division of property: If you’ve been married 20 years or more, you probably have significant assets, both marital and separate property that will need to be divided.  It may be difficult to define which is separate property after a long marriage.  There are many considerations that are unique to a grey divorce when dividing assets, such as the length of the marriage, if one or both parties are retired or close to retirement, when and how assets were obtained, pensions and retirement accounts, inheritances, and much more.
  3. Social Security: In some circumstances, a spouse is entitled to benefits based on his/her spouse’s social security.  This depends on the duration of the marriage and each spouse’s income. Getting remarried will stop any spousal social security benefits.
  4. Life insurance: Anyone paying spousal support is required to have a life insurance policy in the amount and for the term that is equal to the amount and duration of the spousal support decreed in the divorce.  This can impact seniors, as even term insurance policies can be extremely and sometimes, prohibitively expensive.
  5. Long-term considerations: There are many issues surrounding getting older, including competency, long-term care, end of life care, and preparations for burial or cremation. This should be considered in a grey divorce. It is important to update your estate plan both during and after the divorce to protect your estate and your wishes.

As you can see, divorce issues for older couples are far more complex than issues a young or newly married couple face.  If you are considering divorce as a senior citizen, it is important that you speak with an experienced Virginia family law attorney with expertise in senior divorces.  Together, you and your attorney will carefully plan and prepare for all eventualities to ensure that you have the bright future you desire.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a general practice law firm and serves Virginia Beach and the Northern Virginia area.  Our practice areas include Family LawDivorce and Special Needs ChildrenTraffic Ticket DefenseDUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about a grey divorce and family law, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 in Northern Virginia or 757.296.0580 in Virginia Beach, or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.

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