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A man recently appealed a trial court’s findings in the divorce proceedings between him and his ex-wife. At trial, the court had awarded the wife a lump sum for the value of the couple’s home as well as the value of attorney’s fees. On appeal, the husband argued both of these values were unreasonably high. The court disagreed, sustaining the original verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the wife filed a petition for divorce after having been married to her husband for ten years. After the filing, the husband and wife significantly disagreed on two issues: distribution of money for the value of the couple’s house and the awarding of attorney’s fees.

During the couple’s marriage, the monthly mortgage payments were divided equally between the parties. At trial, the wife’s attorney emphasized that she had been the person contributing financially to the improvement of the property, doing the grocery shopping, and taking care of the couple’s children the majority of the time. The husband, on the other hand, had “made negative nonmonetary contributions” to the home by hoarding and diminishing the value of the residence. The court used this evidence, along with the mortgage balance on the house, to determine that the husband owed the wife approximately $38,000 for the value of this asset.

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Virginia considers marriage an economic partnership. As such, it is in the majority of states that follow equitable distribution law for the division of marital property and debts during divorce. Under Virginia Code Section 20-107.3, courts must engage in a fair division of marital property and debts. While some couples may agree amongst themselves on the fair division of marital property, conflicts often arise and many must rely on the courts to decide on their behalf. The goal of the court is to encourage fair and equitable results. However, despite its name, equitable distribution does not necessarily mean 50/50 distribution. Instead, it is a way for the court to divide assets in a manner that considers each party’s earning capability, separate assets, and role in the marriage.

Under the lens of Virginia divorce law, courts classify property as either marital property or separate property. The law defines marital property as jointly-owned property and all other property obtained from marriage to separation. In contrast, separate property refers to property that belonged to only one party before their marriage. Property that was once separate property but then used for the benefit of the marriage may turn into marital property.

Common examples of marital property are the couple’s home titled in both spouse’s names or a retirement account accumulated during the marriage, even if the account only lists one spouse’s name. Further martial property may include vehicles, electronics, and business interests. Separate property includes items like cars given to one spouse, an inheritance, and separately maintained cash gifts from a third party. It is important to note that gifts from one spouse to the other are marital property.

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A woman recently appealed a circuit court’s final order of the adoption of her biological daughter to the minor child’s long-term foster parents. The Virginia family court case began when the Department of Social Services (DSS) became involved after the woman was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of drug paraphernalia. Over the course of seven years, the mother would frequently leave the child in the couple’s care. As such, the foster parents maintained a “very close” relationship with the girl. At one point, the juvenile and domestic relations (JDR) court issued an order granting legal custody of the child to the foster parents.

Between 2017 and 2019, the mother had little contact with the child and did not see her for about 11 months. The foster parents expressed their desire to adopt the child; however, the mother would not consent. The mother conceded that she was absent but refused the adoption, arguing that she wanted additional time to prove her capability. At the adoption hearing, the couple argued that the mother’s consent was unnecessary under Virginia Code § 63.2-1202(H). They further argued that the mother was withholding consent contrary to the child’s best interest. At the hearing, the mother argued that the court erred in taking jurisdiction because the JDR did not remove legal custody or terminate her parental rights. She contends that because the JDR court entered the last custody order, they maintained jurisdiction over the case.

According to the law, a parent’s interest in the care, custody and control of their children is a fundamental liberty interest. As such, biological parents may initiate adoption proceedings in a JDR court as long as one parent consents. Here, contrary to the mother’s assertions, this case was not a parental placement. Instead, the parties testified that the child was placed with the couple so that the girl would be kept out of the foster care system. The court found that the JDR did not have jurisdiction because this was not a case of parental placement, and neither parent consented to the adoption. Ultimately, under the law, the adoption must commence in the proper venue, in this case, the circuit court. For these reasons, the appeals court ultimately affirmed the circuit court’s ruling in the adoption proceedings.

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A Virginia appellate court recently addressed a wife’s appeal from a final divorce decree. Amongst several issues, the wife argued that the circuit court erred by denying her continuance request. According to the record, the couple married in 2008 and began separation and divorce proceedings in 2018. Following several hearings, the parties entered into a separation agreement in 2020. The separation agreement was limited to equitable distribution matters, and the remaining issues were slated for a hearing in March 2020. However, because of the pandemic, the hearing was moved to August 2020.

On the day of the hearing, the wife contacted the clerk explaining that she had a fever and possible COVID-19 contact. The court failed to provide the woman guidance, and the woman did not appear at the hearing. As such, the court decided the case solely on the husband’s evidence. The wife objected to the final decree; however, the court denied the motion.

The wife argues that the lower court abused its discretion by failing to grant her a continuance or provide alternative arrangements to participate in the hearing. Virginia’s rule governing continuance provides that a court abuses its discretion “when a relevant factor that should have been given significant weight is not considered” and when the court considers an irrelevant factor, and when all proper factors are considered, but the court “commits a clear error of judgment.”

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The state appeals court recently issued a decision in a divorce case involving a motion to amend spousal support. The parties’ divorce decree was entered in July 2019, and neither party appealed. During this time, the husband was president and sole employee of a home building company. The wife filed a petition arguing that the husband did not pay spousal support on time; in response, the husband moved to reduce spousal support. During proceedings, the husband conceded that his business received COVID-19 relief, and he failed to show evidence that he was pursuing additional work. However, he argued that his failure to pay was not due to willfulness but rather his inability to pay. Amongst other findings, the court found in favor of the wife and ordered the husband to pay support to cover the arrearage. The husband appealed several findings, including the trial court’s failure to reduce spousal support.

Under Virginia law, upon petition, a court may increase, decrease, or terminate spousal support and maintenance. The party moving for the change must establish a “material change in circumstances” that “warrants a modification of support.” The material change must involve the dependent spouse’s financial needs or the ability of the supporting spouse to pay. Trial courts maintain broad discretion in determining whether a material change warrants a modification. Further, appellate courts must afford the trial court with deference when reviewing these matters.

In this case, the court determined that while there was a material change in circumstances, the husband failed to prove that the change warranted a reduction. Although the husband showed that COVID-19 brought slowdowns in the home building industry, he failed to disclose his finances fully. Further, the husband failed to meet his burden to seek other employment because he did not seek or apply for any other job. In this case, it was not the wife’s burden to establish a need for support, and instead, it was the husband’s burden to show that the wife’s need for support changed. Ultimately, the appellate court found that the trial court evaluated the parties’ circumstances and did not err in their decision to deny the husband’s motion to reduce spousal support.

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Most personal injury lawsuits stem from the negligence of a private citizen or company. However, in some instances, government entities and employees engage in reckless or negligent behavior that causes harm to the public. The Virginia Tort Claims Act, the state constitution and Virginia Supreme Court decisions outline the circumstances under which a private citizen may file a civil claim against a government entity or employee. Cases involving a governmental entity are complex and require an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of Virginia procedural and statutory rules.

Generally, Virginia law provides counties and their employees with immunity from negligence claims; however, immunity does not extend to contractual or civil rights claims. Moreover, the law protects Virginia cities and towns and their employees from immunity for lawsuits stemming from negligence arising from “governmental activities.” The immunity does not cover “proprietary activities,” contractual claims, and civil rights actions. The law generally classifies “governmental activities” as those conducted for the common good of citizens. In contrast, proprietary activities are those that private entities have traditionally done for a pecuniary benefit. For example, governmental activities typically include police work, firefighting, social services, garbage removal, hospitals, jails, engineering of water and sewer systems. On the other hand, proprietary activities are those such as street and sidewalk maintenance, markets, utility company work, airports, and public housing services.

While the rule seemingly provides governmental entities with broad protection, many exceptions exist. Injury victims may still have a claim if the entity engaged in certain conduct such as intentional acts, gross negligence, willful and wanton negligence, unauthorized actions outside the scope of employment, non-discretionary or ministerial actions, and some contractual claims. The distinction between activities can be challenging to parse out. For instance, news reports described a collision between a Virginia State trooper and another vehicle. Officials noted that injuries occurred, but they did not specify who the victims were. However, four people received medical treatment, and two were airlifted to a children’s hospital.

Those who suffer injuries in a Virginia motorcycle accident may file a lawsuit to recover damages for their losses. Although motorcycle accidents are similar to other vehicle accidents, the inherent nature of motorcycles and motorcycle riding tend to present injury victims with additional challenges. Injury victims, including car drivers, passengers, and motorcycle riders and their passengers, should understand how Virginia personal injury laws may impact their claim to recover.

Operating a truck, car, motorcycle, or bike on the road requires the operator to accept a certain degree of risk. However, motorcyclists present riders and those around them with unique risks that may increase the likelihood and severity of an accident. The structural characteristics, such as its weight, design, and lack of safety features, make these vehicles more prone to serious accidents. Further, unlike typical cars, these vehicles are much more likely to experience the impact of common road hazards such as debris and uneven surfaces. Moreover, although both car and motorcycle drivers need to obtain an appropriate license, safe motorcycle driving requires the operator to possess more specialized skills.

Motorcyclists tend to receive unwarranted biases from courts and insurance companies. However, in some instances, certain powerful motorcycles and sport bikes encourage riders to engage in riskier activity, such as speeding, swerving, and quick accelerating. These behaviors can have catastrophic consequences. For instance, news sources recently reported on a serious Virginia motorcycle accident near Virginia Beach. According to reports, eight bikers traveling as part of a larger consort were weaving in and out of traffic. One of the motorcyclists slammed into another motorcycle and then into a sedan. At the same time, another biker lost control of his motorcycle, and two other bikers slammed into each other, causing one of them to lose control and slam into a steel cable. Several of those involved in the collisions were transported to hospitals.

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The Virginia Supreme Court recently decided a case arising from a premises liability lawsuit. In that case, a man was visiting his grandparents’ home where they permitted him to target practice in the direction of their neighbor’s residence. During practice, one of his bullets went through the trees and into the neighbor’s home, striking and killing a woman visiting her mother. The victim’s representative filed a lawsuit against the shooter’s grandparents, arguing that they were negligent in allowing him to target practice in the direction of their neighbor’s home. Among several defenses, the defendants argued that they were immune from lawsuits under Virginia’s Recreational Land Use Act.

Virginia maintains a recreational immunity statute that provides immunity to certain landowners in specific situations. Common law mandates that courts should resolve statutory contentions by strictly construing the terms at issue. In Virginia, the recreational use statute holds that landowners do not owe a duty to keep their land safe for entry or use by others for certain recreational activities. These activities include hunting, fishing, camping, water sports, boating, hiking, foxhunting, and bicycle riding. However, the landowner may be liable for “negligence or willful, or malicious” failures to warn against dangerous conditions.

In this case, the court first analyzed the statute’s protected activities, which includes hunting but not target shooting. The court reasoned that the language does not encompass any phrase that would amount to “any other recreational use.” Therefore, the statute does not extend to non-enumerated activities. Next, the statute only provides immunity for property owners that provide a third party with the “use of an easement or license.” The statute expressly stated that the subsection applies regardless of whether the property owner gave the third-party permission to use their land for recreational purposes. Ultimately, the court found that the recreational use statute does not apply because it does not cover instances when a landowner permits to shoot targets on their property.

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Police chases and pursuits often result in a significant amount of collateral damage to innocent bystanders. Although these pursuits may be necessary, the price that the public pays may not always outweigh the chase’s objective. Vehicular pursuits can result in unintended consequences and serious Virginia car accident injuries. There are many policies and procedures governing the situations when a police chase is appropriate. However, these high-pressure situations lend themselves to creating dangerous situations for everyone in the vicinity.

For example, a recent news report described a harrowing crash that arose after a Virginia police pursuit. According to reports, Virginia State Police (VSP) initiated a traffic stop of a Dodge; however, the Dodge failed to pull over. The officer continued pursuing the vehicle until stopping because of heavy traffic. Although additional officers awaited further down the highway, the original officer reinstated a pursuit after the road became less congested. However, the Dodge slammed into the express lane gates and began speeding in the southbound lane, ultimately slamming into a Ford. The Dodge driver and passenger died at the scene of the accident, as did the Ford driver. Several other vehicles and motorists suffered injuries as well.

After a Virginia accident involving police or government agencies, injury victims often face challenges in recovering their damages. These cases involve a complex analysis of various tort law issues, including sovereign immunity, third-party negligence, and liability. Cases involving Virginia police pursuits require a plaintiff to establish the standard of care that the officer owed the victim, whether the officer acted in good faith when engaging in the high-speed pursuit, and whether the police agency was negligent in their training and supervision.

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No two accidents are the same, and this holds especially true for Virginia trucking accidents. The trucking industry’s complex laws combined with multiple theories of liability and responsibility make these cases exceedingly complicated. These accidents often result in severe injuries, and truck accident injury victims should consult with an attorney to discuss their rights and potential remedies.

Large commercial trucks and tractor-trailers pose significant dangers to motorists, passengers, and everyone else on the road. Accidents involving these vehicles can wreak havoc on a victim, and in many situations, an initial truck accident can set off a chain of collisions. In addition to additional vehicle collisions, these large trucks can cause infrastructure damage that may reverberate throughout an area. This damage can cause a series of unfortunate events that may result in additional accidents.

For instance, a recent Virginia news report described a tractor-trailer collision with another vehicle. Although the initial accident did not result in serious injuries, police stated several power lines were down because of the collision. Downed power lines can result in additional accidents related to the physical road hazard or malfunctioning safety lights.

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