How is marital property divided in Virginia divorce cases?

When Virginia couples divorce, their marital assets and property are divided based on a number of factors, and each spouse may not receive an equal share.

In 2013, there were 29,465 divorces in the state of Virginia, according to the state's Department of Health. Among the issues that couples must settle before they are able to move on with their lives apart is the division of their marital property. With a range of emotions and feelings of entitlement potentially at play, this may be one of the most contentious aspects of people's divorce cases. In order to help protect their rights and ensure they receive their fair share, it is important for divorcing spouses to understand how their marital property will be split.

Marital versus separate property

It is common for people to enter into their marriages with property or wealth of their own. Additionally, they may acquire other assets over the course of their marriages. The comingling of these individual and shared assets can create confusion in the event of a divorce.

Virginia law defines separate property as those assets that people have at the time of their nuptials, property attained by selling or exchanging one spouse's individual property, and assets or property that is received as a gift or inheritance during their marriages. Marital property, on the other hand, are those assets that couples acquire throughout their marriage. This includes their earnings, homes and vehicles, as well as pensions and retirement plans.

Fair and equitable division of property

In Virginia, marital assets are divided based on the principle of equitable distribution. Thus, couples' property is split up in a manner deemed just and fair by the court, as opposed to being separated into equal shares. In order to make this determination, state law specifies that the court should consider factors, including the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse's contributions to the family's well-being
  • Each spouse's contributions to the attainment and care of their marital property
  • The liquid or non-liquid character of their assets
  • Each spouse's debts and liabilities
  • The tax consequences of the property division

The court may also take into account the factors or circumstances that contributed to the divorce, such as infidelity, when deciding how to divide a couple's marital property.

Awarding marital assets

Regardless of the exact distribution decided on by the court, there are a number of ways that people may be awarded their share of their marital property during a Virginia divorce. The court may order the transfer of certain assets between spouses or grant a monetary award to one spouse from the other. Additionally, the court may order the sale of certain property. The proceeds of such sales would then be distributed between the spouses based on the court-ordered division.

Obtaining legal counsel

Since there is some subjectivity in the division of marital assets during Virginia divorces, there are a number of factors that may affect people's settlements. Therefore, it may benefit those who are considering a divorce to seek legal assistance. An attorney may explain their rights and options, look out for their interests and negotiate on their behalf.