How will the new family laws in Virginia impact divorce?

Two new state laws will impact divorce in Virginia.

Family law is an area of the legal world that guides many legal issues including divorce, guardianships and child custody matters. Both state and federal law impact family law matters. As noted in a previous piece, the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) led to changes at the federal level. This new law changed the tax code in a way that directly impacts divorce. The piece, available here, discusses how the new law changes the treatment of alimony.

Recent changes at the state level will also impact divorce. Virginia state lawmakers recently passed two laws that deal specifically with modification of spousal support payments.

Modification law #1: When can the court modify a spousal support agreement?

Virginia Senate Bill 614 changes the state law on the ability to modify a spousal support agreement. In the past, it was very difficult for the court to grant modifications to a spousal support agreement when the agreement did not include a provision to specifically address the modification of support payments.

The new law grants the court more control in these situations. It allows courts to modify support agreements based on a "material change in circumstances" even if the agreement is silent on modification. This is a significant change from the previous law.

The new law applies to any divorce agreement executed after July 1,2018.

Modification law #2: Does retirement constitute a "material change" for a modification?

Virginia Senate Bill 540 provided additional guidance on how retirement will impact modification determinations. First, the law allows the court to find retirement of a paying individual that is at full retirement age. The law further defines retirement age as the "maximum social security age under federal statute." The government has currently set the retirement age at 67.

The law also provides additional guidance when the court is considering an action to increase, decrease or terminate a support payment based on the payor spouse's reaching retirement age. These factors include whether or not retirement was discussed in the original support agreement, whether the retirement was mandatory or voluntary, how the retirement would impact the payor's income, the age and health of the parties, the duration of support already paid and the assets of each party.

Family law is evolving: How can an attorney help?

Anyone going through a divorce is wise to seek legal counsel to guide them through the process. An attorney experienced in family law matters can help discuss how these changes will impact your divorce.