New ruling could change the way Virginians file for divorce

Inside one of Charlottesville's courtrooms.
Inside one of Charlottesville's courtrooms.(WVIR)
Updated: Feb. 15, 2020 at 4:52 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A new court ruling could have major impacts on how Virginians file for divorce and how much spousal support they pay or receive.

The ruling would allow judges to consider more than legal grounds for divorce, instead permitting them to apply all of the reasons a marriage falls apart.

A Chesterfield couple's divorce case has changed the face of divorce proceedings for marriages across the commonwealth.

“This is why this case is important because it provides clarity,” divorce attorney Chris Smith said. "In this particular case, these folks were married for four or five years, and the wife was asking for a divorce. On no fault and she was asking for spousal support."

The wife filed a pre-trial motion to bar the court from considering her adultery in the divorce proceedings.

It was a no-fault divorce, the husband did not object, and the judge agreed.

“The judge ended up working this wife $45,000 payable over five years, and gave her some other relief and so the husband appealed and said, this isn't right,” Smith said.

However the husband felt a 2016 amendment to the spousal support law allowed him to raise his wife's adultery when considering spousal support, even if it was barred from being brought up in the divorce proceedings.

The appeals court agreed with him.

“It's not just trial court is not just limited to formal fault grounds of cruelty or desertion or abandonment, anything that brings that affected the dissolution of the marriage by either party needs to be heard,” Smith said.

This could be a game-changing ruling for spousal support cases, Smith said.

"Maybe you had physical violence but it wasn't enough for cruelty, maybe there's evidence of an affair but not to the level of clear and convincing that you would need for proof that the court can still look at behavior and so it opens up the door into a lot more things that a trial court would have to consider in a spouse support case,” Smith said.

In the chesterfield case, the appellate court sent the ruling back down to the trial court. It remains to be seen whether or not the court’s ruling will result in a different outcome in the trial.

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