Skilled Northern Virginia Property Division Attorneys
Serving all of Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Arlington County and Alexandria City
Divorce often involves the division of a variety of types of property and debt, due to the many assets clients acquire during their lives. This process, called equitable distribution in Virginia, can be incredibly stressful for clients as they try to plan for their futures. It is also a necessary step in most divorces, even if the couple has very little to divide or has had a short-term marriage.
Before dividing property, courts first must determine or the parties must agree which property is separate and which property is marital. Some property may also be hybrid, meaning that it is part marital and part separate. Often, settlement negotiations and litigation turn on whether a party can prove that assets are separate or can be traced back to the separate assets used to acquire them (such as the use of premarital funds on the down payment for a house). If property is proven to be separate, the court cannot divide it, allowing that party to retain it as their own. Property acquired after the separation may also be separate (through gift, inheritance or otherwise), though it is important to understand how to preserve such claims, and speaking to an attorney is imperative early in the separation if you believe that assets may risk being commingled and lose their classification as separate property.
There are numerous cases in Virginia discussing the traceability of various types of assets. Clients often do not realize that property may be traceable and how to trace it until they have spoken to an experienced equitable distribution attorney. Beginning at the consultation, our attorneys at Hirsch & Ehlenberger look for any assets that might be separate or hybrid so we can assist you in obtaining the documentation and evidence needed to prove such a claim. Gathering evidence early in a case allows settlement negotiations to go more quickly and successfully, and can ensure that we are ready for a hearing if a settlement is not possible.
Once it is determined whether property is separate or marital, the next step is the appropriate division of the marital property. Virginia does not have a presumption that marital property and debt will be divided equally. If the matter goes to court, the court must consider the factors listed in Virginia Code § 20-107.3, which are:
- The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
- The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party in the acquisition and care and maintenance of such marital property of the parties;
- The duration of the marriage;
- The ages and physical and mental condition of the parties;
- The circumstances and factors which contributed to the dissolution of the marriage, specifically including any ground for divorce under the provisions of subdivision A (1), (3) or (6) of § 20-91 or § 20-95;
- How and when specific items of such marital property were acquired;
- The debts and liabilities of each spouse, the basis for such debts and liabilities, and the property which may serve as security for such debts and liabilities;
- The liquid or nonliquid character of all marital property;
- The tax consequences to each party;
- The use or expenditure of marital property by either of the parties for a nonmarital separate purpose or the dissipation of such funds, when such was done in anticipation of divorce or separation or after the last separation of the parties; and
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award.
Preparing for an equitable distribution (or property distribution) hearing involves substantial advance work. There are often scheduling orders that require all documents to be produced well before trial to ensure that both parties have a fair day in court. This discovery process is often arduous. However, if documents or information are not produced in discovery well before the trial, parties may be barred from using the documents or information to prove their side of the case at a hearing. Much of the trial process involves “discovery.” Discovery often includes interrogatories (written questions which have to be answered in writing), requests for production of documents, subpoenaing documents, expert witness evaluations and depositions. If you are served with discovery in a divorce case, it is important to speak to an attorney right away to ensure that you will not be prejudiced in your case by failing to respond in a timely and complete manner. Courts will hold parties who represent themselves to the same standard that they hold attorneys, which can have dire consequences for a self-represented person who does not fully understand discovery and trial processes.
Early on in cases, parties are often worried that their spouse will try to hide assets or will improperly use assets during the separation so that they are no longer available by the time there is a settlement or a trial. Courts have the ability to preserve assets in certain cases so that they will be available for equitable distribution. If you believe this is a risk in your case, you should speak to an attorney right away to protect your rights.
The attorneys at Hirsch & Ehlenberger are familiar with the nuances of property division and have handled equitable distribution cases throughout Northern Virginia including Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Arlington County and Alexandria City. We have experience with all types of assets, from common holdings such as retirement and real estate, to unique assets such as stock options and business interests. We also are experienced in handling the division of debts as well as assets.
Contact our Proven Northern Virginia Property Division Attorneys
If you would like more information about what to expect during the division of property (equitable distribution) or any other family law matter, contact Hirsch & Ehlenberger, P.C. for an initial consultation with a Northern Virginia Property Division Lawyer.