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Appeals court nixes spousal support carve-out

A wife who was receiving over $20,000 monthly for temporary spousal support lost her shot at ongoing support when the judge struck her divorce complaint.

The divorce court apparently attempted to carve out the wife’s support request when it granted the husband’s motion to strike the wife’s pleading, but the Court of Appeals nixed that effort and reversed the wife’s support award in Wroblewski v. Russell in a split panel decision on June 17.

Steven T. Russell moved to strike wife Karen Wroblewski’s divorce complaint for failure to corroborate her grounds of divorce. Fauquier County Circuit Judge Jeffrey W. Parker granted the motion to strike, but declined to strike the wife’s request for spousal support. He went on to award her support that tapered over a period of three years, from $5,000, to $3,000 to $1,500, per month.

Case law “does not support the notion of an extra-statutory reservoir of authority for courts to draw from in divorce cases” that would permit a court to grant relief based on a stricken pleading, wrote Judge Stephen A. McCullough in the appellate court’s majority opinion.

Senior Judge Rosemarie Annunziata dissented, saying the trial court expressly exempted the wife’s pleading for spousal support from its ruling striking her complaint for divorce.

With the statutory requirements for jurisdiction satisfied, “I would find wife’s pleading, under these facts, continued unaffected by the dismissal of her pleadings for divorce,” Annunziata wrote.

The majority upheld a trial court order requiring the husband to pay the wife’s health insurance for 18 months, as authorized under Va. Code § 20-108.1(C).

The wife also challenged the trial court’s distribution of certain property as a violation of the automatic stay pursuant to her separate bankruptcy proceeding, but the appellate approved the distribution as covering only property abandoned by the bankruptcy trustee.

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