What is Family Law?
We are family law attorneys. Family law covers all areas that have an impact on families – for better or for worse. Adoption is a joyous experience of adding a new member to the family. Divorce is a disruption of the family unit, which can be far from joyous.
We are not “divorce lawyers.” We do not encourage divorce. That is a decision that the parties must make. They also must take responsibility for how the process is handled. They ultimately are responsible for how long the case takes to complete, how much it will cost and how difficult (or not) the case will be for all involved.
All of these cases require specialized legal knowledge and training. They are controlled by Virginia statutes and case law from the courts. As the law is constantly changing, an attorney must work to keep up. The policy of this office is to remain current through frequent training, review of current literature and court decisions and participation in national, state and local family law organizations.
We recognize that family members will need to deal with each other for years to come. For this reason, we encourage communication and often, therapeutic intervention. We also encourage the use of mediation and collaborative law in the appropriate situations. A consultation will help us determine the best course of action in your case.
We hope to help you navigate your legal issues by covering some of the most frequently asked questions regarding various areas of practice:
When do I need a Virginia Adoption Lawyer?
Adoption: After you have located a child who is available for adoption and are ready to have the adoption finalized, you need a lawyer.
You also need a lawyer if you receive notice that the other parent has filed to have a step-parent or others adopt your child, and you object to the adoption.
Adoption is a very technical area of the law. You must strictly follow the procedures in the Virginia Code. A failure to do so could prevent the adoption from going through or could lead to it being set aside at a later date.
Who can adopt?
Agencies consider single and married women and men of all races, ages and income levels for adoption. You can be experienced parents with children in your home, first-time parents, or have grown children.
Two unmarried adults cannot adopt a child in Virginia. A married person cannot adopt without the spouse also adopting the child.
How long will it take to adopt?
The time frame, like the cost, varies with the type of child being adopted.
For example, step-parent adoptions can be completed in a matter of weeks, while others may have specific waiting periods.
How can my spouse adopt my child?
This is not a difficult process if the other biological parent will consent to the adoption. If you are unable to obtain consent, it is still possible. Contact us for more information.
Can I find out information about my adoption when I become an adult?
To initiate a search for the birth family, you must fill out an Adoptee Application for Disclosure from: Adoption Reports Unit, Department of Social Services, 730 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219-1849; Phone (804) 692-1944
Can I afford to adopt?
There are provisions for military personnel to be reimbursed for adoption costs. Some other employers also offer financial assistance for adoption. Adoption from foster care is a no-cost option. You can also go to Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to review information and sources of funding for adoptions.
When do I need a Virginia Divorce Lawyer?
Divorce: When a case is filed or needs to be filed in the Circuit Court (the only court that can grant you a final divorce or divide your property), you need a lawyer.
A lawyer can also be useful in visitation, custody and support cases in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
It is imperative that you contact an attorney immediately if you are served with papers. If you miss a deadline, you can lose your rights. Never fail to appear in court if you receive a summons. Also, always pick up your certified mail. Ignoring it will not make it go away.
How long do I have to live in Virginia before I can file for divorce?
Six months. This can be the result of a voluntary relocation to Virginia or pursuant to valid military orders.
How long do I have to be separated before divorce can be finalized?
One year if there are children under 18 years of age or if there is no written agreement. Six months with no children under 18 and a written agreement.
The Complaint for divorce, however, can be filed prior to the expiration of this period if there are fault grounds claimed.
Can I get an annulment instead of a divorce?
Annulments are rarely granted in Virginia. You can’t get an annulment just because you changed your mind or have been married for a short period of time. You can only have one if 1) you have been married for less than two years, and 2) you can prove that there was fraud or duress, your spouse was impotent at the time of marriage, had been convicted of a felony prior to the marriage, parented a child outside the marriage within ten months of the date of marriage, or had been a prostitute prior to the marriage, and 3) you never knew this information prior to the marriage and never cohabited with your spouse after learning this information.
If you do qualify for an annulment, you still need to file a Complaint in court and get a court order annulling the marriage.
Child Custody, Visitation and Support FAQs
Can visitation be withheld because support is not being paid?
No. Visitation and support are separate issues. You cannot deny visitation because support is not being paid.
If you do not pay support when it is due, you can be held in contempt of court and punished by a fine or imprisonment.
What factors does a court consider when making a custody decision?
In cases related to children, the court follows the “Best Interest of the Child” standard when making a decision. There are several factors that go into determining what exactly the best interest is, which can be found in Virginia Code Section 20-124.3.
What age does a child have to be to have an opinion on where they get to live?
A child will be able to voice their opinion on where they would prefer to live if the court decides that the child is mature and capable enough to understand the situation. Generally, children 12 and older are reasonably intelligent enough and have the life experience to be able to express their preference. However, sometimes the judge will make exceptions, and consider the opinion of a younger child if they determine the child is able to understand, is reasonably intelligent enough, and has the experience to have their preference considered. Likewise, an older but immature child may not be taken as seriously.
A child’s preference is only one factor that the court will consider, however. There are various other factors that the court weighs in determining what is best for the child. The factors can be found in Virginia Code Section 20-124.3.
What happens with support if the other party is unemployed or underemployed?
In some situations where a party is unemployed or underemployed, the court can often consider the parent’s earning potential rather than their actual income, and impute income to them. See our Blog post about it here.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a highly effective process in which the mediator is a neutral person who helps parties in dispute reach an agreement.
What are the advantages of mediation over litigation?
Cost is greatly reduced. Time is greatly reduced. Emotional wear and tear is also reduced. Satisfaction is increased. You walk away with something you have agreed to instead of rolling the dice with a judge who does not know you.
Courts encourage parties to try to resolve issues between themselves first. Experienced attorneys also recommend this.
How do I schedule a mediation session?
Both parties should schedule a time to come in together. The mediator cannot meet with one party alone. There is a full explanation of how the process will work prior to the beginning of the initial session.
Who should I use as a mediator?
You should look for a mediator who is certified by the Virginia Supreme Court. Mary Commander is certified as a mediator. She also trains other mediators in the Supreme Court approved certification classes on issues relating to divorce process and family law in Virginia.
What is reckless driving?
In Virginia, Reckless Driving is when someone operates a vehicle in a manner that endangers life, limb or property. The most common way this is charged is due to a high speed. Anything over 80 MPH or 20 miles over the posted speed limit is considered Reckless Driving. It is charged as a class one misdemeanor, which means it is the same level as simple assault or a DUI.
What is general reckless driving?
General Reckless Driving is charged most often when there has been an accident. It is common for police departments to have a policy that requires an officer who responds to the scene of an accident to charge someone for it. This is a unique charge because the police officer usually did not witness the incident that they are alleging was reckless driving. If the driver does not incriminate themselves at the scene, this type of reckless driving provides a lot of room for argument in court.
Do I have to show up to court for a reckless driving ticket?
Reckless driving is a criminal charge, which requires defendants to appear in person. There are a few circumstances where an attorney can appear on behalf of the defendant, but it is very case-specific. If you do not show up to court, then you will be found guilty in absentia and often the court will also charge you with a Failure to Appear. If you cannot appear in court on the day of your hearing, you must make arrangements to have your case continued by an attorney avoid additional charges being filed against you.
What are some defenses to a charge for reckless driving?
The defenses available to you will depend on the details of your particular case. There are several procedural standards required of the police officer that issued the charge. For example, they must properly calibrate their equipment within a particular timeframe and they must bring paperwork to court to show that this was properly done. An experienced Virginia reckless driving attorney will know what to look for in the paperwork and in the procedures followed by the officer. There are also some mitigating circumstances that can sometimes make a difference, such as whether your speedometer was accurate, whether there was a reason or cause of the manner of your driving, or your prior driving record.
Do I need a lawyer to handle my reckless driving charge?
An experienced reckless driving lawyer will be more likely to get good results on your case than someone who only did some Google research. It is crucial to minimize the damage that can come from a reckless driving charge. Unlike traffic infraction like speeding tickets, a conviction for reckless driving stays on your criminal record forever. It is a criminal misdemeanor, which can sometimes have an effect on someone’s security clearance or create issues with future employment possibilities. It is very important to give yourself the best possible change to avoid a criminal conviction, which requires an understanding of the law, local court procedures, and the experience in building a strong case.
Family Law Litigation & Mediation