What Can a Court Decide in a Divorce?

Posted on April 12, 2012 by

Other than dissolving the marriage, what other decisions can a divorce court make? Jurisdiction for divorce cases in Virginia is created by laws passed by the Virginia General Assembly. The Circuit Courts in Virginia have jurisdiction over divorces. By statue, the Circuit Courts can not only dissolve the marriage once grounds for divorce have been established, but once the court has jurisdiction over the divorce, it can enter orders related to other issues that typically arise in a divorce situation.

The court can enter orders equitably dividing the marital property and debts of the parties. Equitable division does not mean an even or equal distribution and there is no presumption in Virginia that property and debts will be divided equally between the parties. The court has the authority to divide marital property and debts; therefore, the court must first identify what property and debts exist and whether the property and debts are marital or separate (belong to one spouse only).

As part of a divorce case, the court can also enter an order for payment of spousal support, also referred to as alimony, from one spouse to the other. Under Virginia law, spousal support can be awarded as a lump sum, as periodic payments until death or remarriage of the receiving spouse, or as periodic payments for a defined duration or period of time. Virginia law sets forth specific factors that the court must consider when it determines whether to award spousal support, how much, and for how long.

The circuit courts in Virginia are also authorized by statute to enter orders related to custody, visitation and child support for any minor children the divorcing parties have in common. The jurisdiction to decide child custody, child visitation, child support and temporary spousal support is concurrent jurisdiction between the circuit courts and the juvenile and domestic relations district court. What is concurrent jurisdiction? Once spouses are separated, either of them can file petitions in the juvenile and domestic relations district court asking that that court decide child support, child custody, visitation and/or temporary spousal support. At the same time, if grounds for divorce exist, either of them could also file for divorce in the circuit court, asking that that court also decide child support, child custody, visitation and/or temporary (and permanent) spousal support. If the juvenile court decides these issues and its decision is not appealed, the decision made by the juvenile court is final except for spousal support. Whatever decision the juvenile court makes with respect to temporary spousal support may be altered by the circuit court when it decides the issue of permanent spousal support.

Each issue that can be decided by a circuit court in divorce is governed by Virginia statutes and case law (court decisions) that have developed with regard to each issue. The law with respect to grounds for divorce, equitable distribution, spousal support, child custody, visitation and child support is constantly evolving, making it crucial that you seek representation from an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with each of the issues and the most current cases and statutes that affect those issues.

Categories: Divorce, Education
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