Virginia Divorce FAQ’s – Property Division

This is about property division in divorce in Virginia, including the general rule for Virginia property division, what effect the length of marriage and conduct of the parties has on property division after divorce in Virginia, how separate property works in Virginia, and treatment of the marital home and retirement plans in divorce in Virginia.

This information is from Wayne E. Comer, the Divorcinfo Network Lawyer for Virginia. You can click here to visit his web site.

What’s the general rule of property division (equitable distribution, community property, or legal title)?

Virginia does not have “community” property as that term is generally understood. We have “equitable distribution”, which is kind of a first cousin to the “community property”. Va. Code §20-107.3 spells out the details:

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.

What effect does the conduct of the parties have on property division?

The conduct of the parties will effect the division only to the extent that one of the parties has “wasted the marital property”. An example is where one party may have lavished money or other property on a paramour or at the race track.

What effect does the length of the marriage have on property division?

(see E.(3) in the above Code Section. It will be a factor but it becomes difficult to predict how much weight it will carry vis a vis the other “factors”. As a practical matter, the longer the marriage the less likely it is that much of the property will fall into the “separate” category.

Is there such a thing as separate property? What does it take?

The primary example of “separate” is property inherited by one of the parties and not merged in any fashion with the “marital property” i.e, kept in a separate bank account, etc. In case of “merger”, property becomes “marital”.

Any special rules for the marital home?

No special rules except that normally each spouse will have an undivided one-half interest by title irrespective of any rights existing by reason of the divorce Code. However, it might get noticed under the above catch-all factor (see E.(10) above.

How do retirement plans get divided?

There is a provision in the Va. Code for division of a pension plan between the parties. As to whether some or all of the property is “marital” depends on the application of the “equitable distribution” Code Section to the circumstances and in accord with above Va. Code 20-107.3 “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.” When that is determined in favor of the “non-member” of the plan, the details of the split are covered by a federal Code section dealing with what is called a “Qualified Domestic Relations Order” under the Retirement Equity Act of 1984, P.L. 98-397, 26 USC, Sections 401(a)(3) and 414(p) of the Internal Revenue Code, and Section 206 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 USC, Section 1056.

Other issues in Virginia:

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