virginia interrogatories

Interrogatories are one of the tools available in Discovery. Interrogatories are written questions that require written responses. The answers provided are treated as though the answering party was testifying under oath inside the courtroom. This means that responses are able to be used as evidence by the other party at trial.

Most attorneys have standard interrogatories for particular types of cases, but the questions can be anything as long as they are relevant and designed to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. In a divorce case for example, the interrogatories can cover many topics. It’s common to ask about financial matters such as bank accounts, assets and debts. If there are children, then there likely will be interrogatories about child custody matters such as specific incidents, the party’s involvement with the child and the party’s mental and physical health. In any type of case, interrogatories can also ask about witnesses that know information relevant to the case.

Not every single interrogatory question is appropriate and requires an answer. Just as an attorney can object to questions asked in court, an attorney can note their objections to particular interrogatory questions.

Each side can only ask 30 interrogatories. If there is more information that either side would like to ask about, they must obtain permission to do so from the court and explain why additional interrogatories are necessary.

The Discovery Process

discovery 1Discovery is a process by which the parties seek information from each other that is relevant to the case. This is a very broad standard, which means that a lot of personal information can be requested in the process, including bank statements, tax returns, and details related to someone’s affair. The point is for each side to have an idea of what the other side may present in a trial in order for each side to best prepare their case. Discovery helps to prevent one side from blindsiding the other during a trial with evidence or a witness that they have not had time to prepare an answer to.

Types of Discovery

There are various types of Discovery, some of which include interrogatories, request for production of documents, admissions, depositions, and subpoenas. We will explore each one in future blog posts.

How long does Discovery take?

Different discovery tools have set timeframes. For example, per Virginia Statute, a party has 21 days to respond to Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents beginning on the date they receive them from the opposing side. If the party does not respond within 21 days, then the requesting party must make one more effort to resolve the issue, which usually means sending a letter saying the responses are overdue and providing one last deadline. If the interrogatories are still ignored, then there are steps that the requesting party can take through the court to get the responses. Eventually, if someone does not cooperate, they can suffer various consequences such as having to pay sanctions, attorney’s fees, and even being barred by the court from presenting any evidence that the discovery asked about!

The process of Discovery can be very lengthy, which means it can significantly add to the cost of a case. However, often the process increases the chances that the case will settle outside of court. It provides each side a glimpse into the other’s case and essentially forces each party to “show their hand.” It’s an extremely important part of the case, even though it certainly isn’t much fun for either side. It is rarely advised to go forward with a trial without first going through discovery.

Guardian Ad Litem


In child custody and visitation cases, the court often appoints a Guardian ad Litem. The Guardian ad Litem is an attorney whose role is to represent to the court what they believe is in the best interest of the child.

The Best Interest of the Child

In Virginia, the court always makes decisions about children by using the “best interest” standard. This standard includes several factors which must be considered. For example, when a GAL makes a recommendation about where a child should live, they must consider the child’s age and mental condition. An infant is going to have different needs than a teenager. Other factors include the physical and mental condition of each parent, the relationship between the child and each parent, each parent’s ability to work with the other parent, and any history of abuse. The full list of the factors considered can be found in the Code of Virginia.

How Does the GAL Determine What the Best Interest Is?

In order to determine what the best interest of the child is, the Guardian ad Litem must conduct an independent investigation into the case. This means that the GAL will usually schedule a home-visit with each party to see where the child would be spending their time while in that parent’s care. The main goals are to figure out what the child’s wishes are (if the child is an appropriate age), whether the current arrangement is working and is safe, and how the child is doing in general.

GALs typically will obtain medical records and report cards, and will often speak with teachers, counselors or daycare providers. This allows the GAL the opportunity to gather information about the child’s personality as well as their physical and mental state. Your child will probably be asked to meet with the GAL without the parents as well. This can take place in the GAL’s office or in the child’s home.

The GAL’s Role in Court

The GAL is an attorney in court, and can ask questions of either side. The GAL cannot be questioned by either side, and does not testify. Instead, the GAL provides a report that includes what their recommendation is, and what they discovered through their investigation. This report is sometimes written in advance and provided to the parties.

It is very often the case that the judge’s decision will align with the GAL’s recommendation. The attorneys at Commander Law know how to work side by side with the GALs to ensure that they fully understand the ins and outs of the case. We work tirelessly to make sure all of your concerns are heard so that the GAL’s recommendation takes into consideration all of the factors that are important to our clients.


What is a Nesting Agreement?

In a separation or divorce, maintaining as much stability and normalcy for children should be a priority. A great way to do that for parents who have the means is by reaching a nesting agreement. Nesting or bird nesting is when the children remain in the marital house, and the parents take turns living in the home with them. The visitation schedule will vary depending on the particular circumstances of the parties, with parents alternating every two weeks, weekly or with one coming for a weekend.

What are the benefits of a nesting agreement?

There are clear advantages to nesting. Divorce can be extremely devastating to children and being shuffled back and forth between one parent’s new apartment and their former home can add to the stress. In a nesting agreement, the children get to stay put and maintain their usual routine, familiar and comfortable surroundings and the stability of living in just one place. This often helps children to deal with the major changes going on around them. Nesting also allows the parents to secure a smaller second home or apartment since they don’t have to worry about having separate bedrooms for the children. Sometimes selling the marital home immediately would result in a financial loss to the parties, and being able to keep the home and continue to grow the equity can be beneficial to them later on.

What are the drawbacks of a nesting agreement?

Nesting isn’t for everyone, of course. Sometimes it is not financially feasible for both parents to get separate homes on top of maintaining the marital home. If the parents have issues with communication, then nesting can create even more issues because they need to work together to determine how the home must be maintained, which parent will pay the bills, which parent will be responsible for repairs and groceries, etc. A nesting agreement forces parents to interact more than they would if they both remained in their own home. Keeping the home can also cause the children to believe that the door is still open for the parents to reconcile.

Each family is different and the best way to determine what custody and visitation arrangement works best for your family is to discuss the pros and cons with an attorney at Commander Law. Together we can figure out what is best for your children and for you.


What are the types of Custody?

child custody

Legal Custody

Legal Custody refers to the ability to make important decisions on the child’s behalf. These decisions include choices about medical care, education, and religious beliefs. Joint legal custody is when both parents have the ability to make these types of decisions and therefore must discuss the possible choices and then they must agree on what decision to make. If only one parent has legal custody, then they do not have to consult with the other parent to reach a decision, and the other parent is not permitted to make these types of decisions at all.

Regardless of whether a parent has legal custody, they are still permitted to access their child’s school or medical records without consulting the other parent.

Physical Custody

Physical Custody refers to which parent the child lives with. In Virginia, when the child lives with one parent more than 90 full days a year, then the parents have shared physical custody. If one parent has the child for 90 or less full days a year, then the other parent has primary physical custody. The difference that this distinction makes is related to child support. There are two different formulas used to calculate child support, depending on whether the parents have shared physical custody or not.

We know that this can be confusing, and often we have clients who get confused trying to use the correct legal terminology to explain what they want. The easiest way to explain to your attorney what it is that you want is to simply explain what you would like the final arrangement to look like, without worrying about what the court will call it. Let your Commander Law attorney figure out what to call it, and make your focus figuring out what is the best arrangement for your child.


What about the dog?

commander law dog

This is an issue that comes up on occasion when negotiating the terms of a Separation Agreement. It may seem silly to people who don’t own a dog, but dog owners often are extremely emotionally attached to their pups and often feel similarly to them as they do about their children.

Virginia treats pets as personal property, no different than your favorite armchair. This means that pets are subject to the same rules regarding property and the court will consider whether the dog is marital property to be divided, or separate property that belongs only to one party. Obviously most dog parents will not want to simply sell the dog and split the proceeds to resolve the matter, which is why it is not unusual to have people ask if it is possible to enter into a visitation schedule for the dog!

The answer to that is Yes! As long as the parties agree, it is possible to specify a visitation schedule for a dog in a Separation Agreement. Other solutions treat the matter the same as they would determine where the children should live, and consider the best interest of the dog. Who is the dog most attached to? Who has more space for the dog to play and run around? Which party is the dog’s primary caregiver?

As with most divorce matters, the best solution is for the parties to negotiate and then agree to in a separation agreement rather than taking the issue in front of a judge.