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Glossary of Divorce, Support and Custody Terms - Virginia Law Specific

Disclaimer: The definitions provided here are intended for consumers as general information, it should not be relied upon for legal information. Every case is different, and you should consult with a qualified attorney for advice.

Alimony - see Spousal Support

Bill of Complaint for Divorce - This is the "suit" that is filed to begin divorce proceedings. When you hear the term "suing for divorce," it all stems from this document.

Child Support - In Virginia, the courts are going to make sure the best interest of the child are looked after. When it comes to the children, believe me when I say the judge does not care about the feelings of the mother or the father, the judge solely cares for what is in the best interests of the child. Should it be any different?

Child Support Guidelines - See Code of Virginia 20-108.2. The General Assembly has formulated a "Schedule of Monthly Basic Child Support Obligations" based on the Combined Monthly Gross Income and the number of children. The schedule amount of child support is a reputable presumption but is a good starting point to figure out how much child support is required.

Change in Circumstance - Changes in spousal support and child support and custody can only be made when there is a change in material circumstances such as a job loss, one parent moving, or a significant raise in one spouse's income.

Equitable distribution - This is Virginia's fancy term for how your property is divided upon divorce.

Income and Expense Report - Frequently used in spousal and child support hearing. A comprehensive listing of one spouse's financial expenses and income for one month.

Maintenance - See Spousal Support

Marital or joint property - Marital property is property that was purchased or acquired during the marriage. Speaking very generally, marital property is usually divided upon divorce regardless of the name on the title.

No-fault divorce - Often misunderstood term, this is the divorce granted on living separate and apart. If there are minor children the parties must be separated for one year. If there are no minor children and the parties have entered into a property settlement agreement, the waiting period is six months.

Pendente lite hearing - Once the Bill of Complaint for Divorce is filed, a hearing can be requested to determine who maintains temporary possession of the home, the automobiles, custody arrangements, child custody amounts and spousal support and any other issues that need to be addressed. The pendente lite order remains in effect until the divorce is finalized.

Property Settlement Agreement - Document settling how the property is to be distributed upon divorce and how support and custody issues will be handled.

Separate property - Property that was purchased or acquired by one spouse before the marriage, or is the result of a gift or inheritance during the marriage.

Spousal Support - Also referred to as maintenance or alimony. Money paid to the one spouse who can demonstrate a need for financial assistance balanced by the other spouse's ability to pay.


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The Virginia court gives primary consideration to the best interests of the child in determining custody. The court assures minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourages parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. In determining the best interests of a child, the court considers a variety of factors including the age, physical and mental condition of the child as well as each parent, the needs of the child, the role of each parent and the rapport of each parent, and the "willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child," family abuse, and "other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination."
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