Virginia Separation Agreement Law


Divorce – Separation Agreements – Virginia

Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law of separation agreements in Virginia, but does include basic and other provisions.

General Summary: Separation and Property Agreements may be entered into before a divorce is filed to be effective immediately. The Court may incorporate, ratify or affirm, the marital agreement in the decree of divorce.

Virginia also provides that marital agreements, defined as a contract between parties that are already married, may also be made under the terms and conditions of the Premarital Agreement Act, Title 20, Ch. 8 of the Virginia Code. Thus a marital agreement, as a contract, may be revoked only by a written agreement signed by the parties.

The marital agreement is thus a part of the decree when it is incorporated by the Court and a valid contract between the parties and may be enforced as such.

Statutes:

Code of Virginia
Title 20 – DOMESTIC RELATIONS.
Chapter 6 – Divorce, Affirmation and Annulment

Grounds for divorce from bond of matrimony; contents of decree:

A. A divorce from the bond of matrimony may be decreed:

(1) For adultery; or for sodomy or buggery committed outside the marriage;
(2) [Repealed.]
(3) Where either of the parties subsequent to the marriage has been convicted of a felony, sentenced to confinement for more than one year and confined for such felony subsequent to such conviction, and cohabitation has not been resumed after knowledge of such confinement (in which case no pardon granted to the party so sentenced shall restore such party to his or her conjugal rights);
(4), (5) [Repealed.]
(6) Where either party has been guilty of cruelty, caused reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, or willfully deserted or abandoned the other, such divorce may be decreed to the innocent party after a period of one year from the date of such act; or
(7), (8) [Repealed.]
(9)

(a) On the application of either party if and when the husband and wife have lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year. In any case where the parties have entered into a separation agreement and there are no minor children either born of the parties, born of either party and adopted by the other or adopted by both parties, a divorce may be decreed on application if and when the husband and wife have lived separately and apart without cohabitation and without interruption for six months. A plea of res adjudicata or of recrimination with respect to any other provision of this section shall not be a bar to either party obtaining a divorce on this ground; nor shall it be a bar that either party has been adjudged insane, either before or after such separation has commenced, but at the expiration of one year or six months, whichever is applicable, from the commencement of such separation, the grounds for divorce shall be deemed to be complete, and the committee of the insane defendant, if there be one, shall be made a party to the cause, or if there be no committee, then the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the insane defendant.

(b) This subdivision (9) shall apply whether the separation commenced prior to its enactment or shall commence thereafter. Where otherwise valid, any decree of divorce hereinbefore entered by any court having equity jurisdiction pursuant to this subdivision (9), not appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, is hereby declared valid according to the terms of said decree notwithstanding the insanity of a party thereto.

(c) A decree of divorce granted pursuant to this subdivision (9) shall in no way lessen any obligation any party may otherwise have to support the spouse unless such party shall prove that there exists in the favor of such party some other ground of divorce under this section or §20-95.

B. A decree of divorce shall include each party’s social security number, or other control number issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles pursuant to § 46.2-342. § 20-91.

Court may decree as to property of the parties:

A. Upon decreeing the dissolution of a marriage, and also upon decreeing a divorce from the bond of matrimony, or upon the filing with the court as provided in subsection J of a certified copy of a final divorce decree obtained without the Commonwealth, the court, upon request of either party, shall determine the legal title as between the parties, and the ownership and value of all property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, of the parties and shall consider which of such property is separate property, which is marital property, and which is part separate and part marital property in accordance with subdivision A 3. The court shall determine the value of any such property as of the date of the evidentiary hearing on the evaluation issue. Upon motion of either party made no less than twenty-one days before the evidentiary hearing the court may, for good cause shown, in order to attain the ends of justice, order that a different valuation date be used. The court, on the motion of either party, may retain jurisdiction in the final decree of divorce to adjudicate the remedy provided by this section when the court determines that such action is clearly necessary, and all decrees heretofore entered retaining such jurisdiction are validated.

1. Separate property is (i) all property, real and personal, acquired by either party before the marriage; (ii) all property acquired during the marriage by bequest, devise, descent, survivorship or gift from a source other than the other party; (iii) all property acquired during the marriage in exchange for or from the proceeds of sale of separate property, provided that such property acquired during the marriage is maintained as separate property; and (iv) that part of any property classified as separate pursuant to subdivision A 3. Income received from separate property during the marriage is separate property if not attributable to the personal effort of either party. The increase in value of separate property during the marriage is separate property, unless marital property or the personal efforts of either party have contributed to such increases and then only to the extent of the increases in value attributable to such contributions. The personal efforts of either party must be significant and result in substantial appreciation of the separate property if any increase in value attributable thereto is to be considered marital property.

2. Marital property is (i) all property titled in the names of both parties, whether as joint tenants, tenants by the entirety or otherwise, except as provided by subdivision A 3, (ii) that part of any property classified as marital pursuant to subdivision A 3, or (iii) all other property acquired by each party during the marriage which is not separate property as defined above. All property including that portion of pensions, profit-sharing or deferred compensation or retirement plans of whatever nature, acquired by either spouse during the marriage, and before the last separation of the parties, if at such time or thereafter at least one of the parties intends that the separation be permanent, is presumed to be marital property in the absence of satisfactory evidence that it is separate property. For purposes of this section marital property is presumed to be jointly owned unless there is a deed, title or other clear indicia that it is not jointly owned.

3. The court shall classify property as part marital property and part separate property as follows:

a. In the case of income received from separate property during the marriage, such income shall be marital property only to the extent it is attributable to the personal efforts of either party. In the case of the increase in value of separate property during the marriage, such increase in value shall be marital property only to the extent that marital property or the personal efforts of either party have contributed to such increases, provided that any such personal efforts must be significant and result in substantial appreciation of the separate property.

For purposes of this subdivision, the nonowning spouse shall bear the burden of proving that (i) contributions of marital property or personal effort were made and (ii) the separate property increased in value. Once this burden of proof is met, the owning spouse shall bear the burden of proving that the increase in value or some portion thereof was not caused by contributions of marital property or personal effort.

“Personal effort” of a party shall be deemed to be labor, effort, inventiveness, physical or intellectual skill, creativity, or managerial, promotional or marketing activity applied directly to the separate property of either party.

b. In the case of any pension, profit-sharing, or deferred compensation plan or retirement benefit, the marital share as defined in subsection G shall be marital property.

c. In the case of any personal injury or workers’ compensation recovery of either party, the marital share as defined in subsection H of this section shall be marital property.

d. When marital property and separate property are commingled by contributing one category of property to another, resulting in the loss of identity of the contributed property, the classification of the contributed property shall be transmuted to the category of property receiving the contribution. However, to the extent the contributed property is retraceable by a preponderance of the evidence and was not a gift, such contributed property shall retain its original classification.

e. When marital property and separate property are commingled into newly acquired property resulting in the loss of identity of the contributing properties, the commingled property shall be deemed transmuted to marital property. However, to the extent the contributed property is retraceable by a preponderance of the evidence and was not a gift, the contributed property shall retain its original classification.

f. When separate property is retitled in the joint names of the parties, the retitled property shall be deemed transmuted to marital property. However, to the extent the property is retraceable by a preponderance of the evidence and was not a gift, the retitled property shall retain its original classification.

g. Subdivisions A 3 d, e and f of this section shall apply to jointly owned property. No presumption of gift shall arise under this section where (i) separate property is commingled with jointly owned property; (ii) newly acquired property is conveyed into joint ownership; or (iii) existing property is conveyed or retitled into joint ownership. For purposes of this subdivision A 3, property is jointly owned when it is titled in the name of both parties, whether as joint tenants, tenants by the entireties, or otherwise.

B. For the purposes of this section only, both parties shall be deemed to have rights and interests in the marital property. However, such interests and rights shall not attach to the legal title of such property and are only to be used as a consideration in determining a monetary award, if any, as provided in this section.

C. Except as provided in subsection G, the court shall have no authority to order the division or transfer of separate property or marital property which is not jointly owned. The court may, based upon the factors listed in subsection E, divide or transfer or order the division or transfer, or both, of jointly owned marital property, or any part thereof. The court shall also have the authority to apportion and order the payment of the debts of the parties, or either of them, that are incurred prior to the dissolution of the marriage, based upon the factors listed in subsection E.

As a means of dividing or transferring the jointly owned marital property, the court may transfer or order the transfer of real or personal property or any interest therein to one of the parties, permit either party to purchase the interest of the other and direct the allocation of the proceeds, provided the party purchasing the interest of the other agrees to assume any indebtedness secured by the property, or order its sale by private sale by the parties, through such agent as the court shall direct, or by public sale as the court shall direct without the necessity for partition. All decrees entered prior to July 1, 1991, which are final and not subject to further proceedings on appeal as of that date, which divide or transfer or order the division or transfer of property directly between the parties are hereby validated and deemed self-executing. All orders or decrees which divide or transfer or order division or transfer of real property between the parties shall be recorded and indexed in the names of the parties in the appropriate grantor and grantee indexes in the land records in the clerk’s office of the circuit court of the county or city in which the property is located.

D. In addition, based upon (i) the equities and the rights and interests of each party in the marital property, and (ii) the factors listed in subsection E, the court has the power to grant a monetary award, payable either in a lump sum or over a period of time in fixed amounts, to either party. The party against whom a monetary award is made may satisfy the award, in whole or in part, by conveyance of property, subject to the approval of the court. An award entered pursuant to this subsection shall constitute a judgment within the meaning of § 8.01-426 and shall not be docketed by the clerk unless the decree so directs. The provisions of § 8.01-382, relating to interest on judgments, shall apply unless the court orders otherwise.

Any marital property, which has been considered or ordered transferred in granting the monetary award under this section, shall not thereafter be the subject of a suit between the same parties to transfer title or possession of such property.

E. The amount of any division or transfer of jointly owned marital property, and the amount of any monetary award, the apportionment of marital debts, and the method of payment shall be determined by the court after consideration of the following factors:

1. The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
2. The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party in the acquisition and care and maintenance of such marital property of the parties;
3. The duration of the marriage;
4. The ages and physical and mental condition of the parties;
5. The circumstances and factors which contributed to the dissolution of the marriage, specifically including any ground for divorce under the provisions of subdivisions (1), (3) or (6) of § 20-91 or § 20-95;
6. How and when specific items of such marital property were acquired;
7. 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;
8. The liquid or nonliquid character of all marital property;
9. The tax consequences to each party; and
10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award.

F. The court shall determine the amount of any such monetary award without regard to maintenance and support awarded for either party or support for the minor children of both parties and shall, after or at the time of such determination and upon motion of either party, consider whether an order for support and maintenance of a spouse or children shall be entered or, if previously entered, whether such order shall be modified or vacated.

G. In addition to the monetary award made pursuant to subsection D, and upon consideration of the factors set forth in Subsection E:

1. The court may direct payment of a percentage of the marital share of any pension, profit-sharing or deferred compensation plan or retirement benefits, whether vested or nonvested, which constitutes marital property and whether payable in a lump sum or over a period of time. The court may order direct payment of such percentage of the marital share by direct assignment to a party from the employer trustee, plan administrator or other holder of the benefits. However, the court shall only direct that payment be made as such benefits are payable. No such payment shall exceed fifty percent of the marital share of the cash benefits actually received by the party against whom such award is made. “Marital share” means that portion of the total interest, the right to which was earned during the marriage and before the last separation of the parties, if at such time or thereafter at least one of the parties intended that the separation be permanent.
2. To the extent permitted by federal or other applicable law, the court may order a party to designate a spouse or former spouse as irrevocable beneficiary during the lifetime of the beneficiary of all or a portion of any survivor benefit or annuity plan of whatsoever nature, but not to include a life insurance policy. The court, in its discretion, shall determine as between the parties, who shall bear the costs of maintaining such plan.

H. In addition to the monetary award made pursuant to subsection D, and upon consideration of the factors set forth in subsection E, the court may direct payment of a percentage of the marital share of any personal injury or workers’ compensation recovery of either party, whether such recovery is payable in a lump sum or over a period of time. However, the court shall only direct that payment be made as such recovery is payable, whether by settlement, jury award, court award, or otherwise. “Marital share” means that part of the total personal injury or workers’ compensation recovery attributable to lost wages or medical expenses to the extent not covered by health insurance accruing during the marriage and before the last separation of the parties, if at such time or thereafter at least one of the parties intended that the separation be permanent.

I. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the affirmation, ratification and incorporation in a decree of an agreement between the parties pursuant to §§ 20-109 and 20-109.1. Agreements, otherwise valid as contracts, entered into between spouses prior to the marriage shall be recognized and enforceable.

J. A court of proper jurisdiction under § 20-96 may exercise the powers conferred by this section after a court of a foreign jurisdiction has decreed a dissolution of a marriage or a divorce from the bond of matrimony, if (i) one of the parties was domiciled in this Commonwealth when the foreign proceedings were commenced, (ii) the foreign court did not have personal jurisdiction over the party domiciled in the Commonwealth, (iii) the proceeding is initiated within two years of receipt of notice of the foreign decree by the party domiciled in the Commonwealth, and (iv) the court obtains personal jurisdiction over the parties pursuant to subdivision A 9 of § 8.01-328.1, or in any other manner permitted by law.

K. The court shall have the continuing authority and jurisdiction to make any additional orders necessary to effectuate and enforce any order entered pursuant to this section, including the authority to:

1. Order a date certain for transfer or division of any jointly owned property under subsection C or payment of any monetary award under subsection D;
2. Punish as contempt of court any willful failure of a party to comply with the provisions of any order made by the court under this section;
3. Appoint a special commissioner to transfer any property under subsection C where a party refuses to comply with the order of the court to transfer such property; and
4. Modify any order entered in a case filed on or after July 1, 1982, intended to affect or divide any pension, profit-sharing or deferred compensation plan or retirement benefits pursuant to the United States Internal Revenue Code or other applicable federal laws, only for the purpose of establishing or maintaining the order as a qualified domestic relations order or to revise or conform its terms so as to effectuate the expressed intent of the order. § 20-107.3.

§ 20-108. Revision and alteration of such decrees.

The court may, from time to time after decreeing as provided in § 20-107.2, on petition of either of the parents, or on its own motion or upon petition of any probation officer or superintendent of public welfare, which petition shall set forth the reasons for the relief sought, revise and alter such decree concerning the care, custody, and maintenance of the children and make a new decree concerning the same, as the circumstances of the parents and the benefit of the children may require. The intentional withholding of visitation of a child from the other parent without just cause may constitute a material change of circumstances justifying a change of custody in the discretion of the court.

No support order may be retroactively modified, but may be modified with respect to any period during which there is a pending petition for modification, but only from the date that notice of such petition has been given to the responding party.

Affirmation, ratification and incorporation by reference in decree of agreement between parties:

Any court may affirm, ratify and incorporate by reference in its decree dissolving a marriage or decree of divorce whether from the bond of matrimony or from bed and board, or by a separate decree prior to or subsequent to such decree, or in a decree entered in a suit for annulment or separate maintenance, and in a proceeding arising under subsection A 3 or L of § 16.1-241, any valid agreement between the parties, or provisions thereof, concerning the conditions of the maintenance of the parties, or either of them and the care, custody and maintenance of their minor children, or establishing or imposing any other condition or consideration, monetary or nonmonetary. Where the court affirms, ratifies and incorporates by reference in its decree such agreement or provision thereof, it shall be deemed for all purposes to be a term of the decree, and enforceable in the same manner as any provision of such decree. The provisions of this section shall apply to any decree hereinbefore or hereinafter entered affirming, ratifying and incorporating an agreement as provided herein. Upon the death or remarriage of the spouse receiving support, spousal support shall terminate unless otherwise provided by stipulation or contract. In any case where jurisdiction is obtained over a nonresident defendant by order of publication or by acceptance of service pursuant to § 20-99.1:1, any properly acknowledged and otherwise valid agreement entered into between the parties may be affirmed, ratified and incorporated as provided in this section. § 20-109.1.

Chapter 8 – Premarital Agreement Act

Application:

This chapter shall apply to any premarital agreement executed on or after July 1, 1986. § 20-147.

Definitions:

As used in this chapter:

“Premarital agreement” means an agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage and to be effective upon marriage.

“Property” means an interest, present or future, legal or equitable, vested or contingent, in real or personal property, including income and earnings. § 20-148.

Formalities of premarital agreement:

A premarital agreement shall be in writing and signed by both parties. Such agreement shall be enforceable without consideration and shall become effective upon marriage. § 20-149.

Content of agreement:

Parties to a premarital agreement may contract with respect to:

1. The rights and obligations of each of the parties in any of the property of either or both of them whenever and wherever acquired or located;
2. The right to buy, sell, use, transfer, exchange, abandon, lease, consume, expend, assign, create a security interest in, mortgage, encumber, dispose of, or otherwise manage and control property;
3. The disposition of property upon separation, marital dissolution, death, or the occurrence or nonoccurrence of any other event;
4. Spousal support;
5. The making of a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement;
6. The ownership rights in and disposition of the death benefit from a life insurance policy;
7. The choice of law governing the construction of the agreement; and
8. Any other matter, including their personal rights and obligations, not in violation of public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty. § 20-150.

Enforcement; void marriage:

A. A premarital agreement is not enforceable if the person against whom enforcement is sought proves that:

1. That person did not execute the agreement voluntarily; or
2. The agreement was unconscionable when it was executed and, before execution of the agreement, that person (i) was not provided a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party; and (ii) did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided.

B. Any issue of unconscionability of a premarital agreement shall be decided by the court as a matter of law. Recitations in the agreement shall create a prima facie presumption that they are factually correct.

C. If a marriage is determined to be void, an agreement that would otherwise have been a premarital agreement shall be enforceable only to the extent necessary to avoid an inequitable result. § 20-151.

Limitation of actions:

Any statute of limitations applicable to an action asserting a claim for relief under a premarital agreement is tolled during the marriage of the parties to the agreement. However, equitable defenses limiting the time for enforcement, including laches and estoppel, are available to either party. § 20-152.

Amendment or revocation of agreement:

After marriage, a premarital agreement may be amended or revoked only by a written agreement signed by the parties. The amended agreement or the revocation is enforceable without consideration. § 20-153.

Prior agreements:

All written agreements entered into prior to the enactment of this chapter between prospective spouses for the purpose affecting any of the subjects specified in § 20-150 shall be valid and enforceable if otherwise valid as contracts. § 20-154.

Marital agreements:

Married persons may enter into agreements with each other for the purpose of settling the rights and obligations of either or both of them, to the same extent, with the same effect, and subject to the same conditions, as provided in §§ 20-147 through 20-154 for agreements between prospective spouses, except that such marital agreements shall become effective immediately upon their execution. However, a reconciliation of the parties after the signing of a separation or property settlement agreement shall abrogate such agreement unless otherwise expressly set forth in the agreement. § 20-155.

Caselaw:

Incorporation of the [property settlement] agreement into the decree renders the terms of the agreement so incorporated enforceable as a decree of the court.” Fry v. Schwarting, 4 Va. App. 173, 179, 355 S.E.2d 342, 345 (1987). However, a decree that incorporates an agreement permitting automatic, unilateral, or agreed upon modification of support without prior court approval is a legal nullity and void. Kelley v. Kelley, 248 Va. 295, 298-99, 449 S.E.2d 55, 56-57 (1994). Parents cannot contract away their children’s rights to support and any provision which impinges upon the right of children to support is void, and a decree which incorporates such provision is likewise void. Riggins v. O’Brien, 34 Va. App. 82, 538 S.E.2d 320

In order to challenge the validity of a separation agreement that has been incorporated into a divorce decree, the challenge must be brought within twenty-one days after the entry of the divorce decree. Rook v. Rook, 233 Va. 92, 94-95, 353 S.E.2d 756, 757-58 (1987). After the passage of twenty-one days from the entry of a judgment, the judgment becomes final and conclusive, absent a perfected appeal. Golderos v. Golderos, 169 Va. 496, 501-02, 194 S.E. 706, 707-08 (1938). Accordingly, any challenge to the agreement may be made only upon grounds sufficient to sustain a challenge to the divorce decree itself. Higgins v. McFarlan, 196 Va. 889, 896-97, 86 S.E.2d 168, 173 (1955).

Both parents owe a duty of support to their minor children. Code Sec. 20-61; A divorce court retains continuing jurisdiction to change or modify its decree relating to the maintenance and support of minor children. Code Sec. 20-108; Featherstone v. Brooks, 220 Va. 443, 448, 258 S.E.2d 513, 516 (1979). Consequently, parents cannot contract away their children’s rights to support nor can a court be precluded by agreement from exercising its power to decree child support. Carter v. Carter, 215 Va. 475, 481, 211 S.E.2d 253, 258 (1975).