Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Court-appointed mediators win pay boost

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//April 25, 2016

Court-appointed mediators win pay boost

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//April 25, 2016

Court-appointed mediators in many Virginia divorce cases in­volving children should see their pay double later this year.

A measure approved by both the Gen­eral Assembly and the governor specifies that, for mediators appointed for both child custody or visitation matters and spousal support issues, the referral is con­sidered two separate appointments.

Virginia CapitolThe state budget included an extra $310,300 to cover the expected cost of the extra pay.

Sponsor Greg Habeeb, a Republican delegate from Salem, said in March the idea was to boost the field of available me­diators.

The measure, House Bill 287, cleared the Assembly with hardly any opposition and was signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on March 25.


Court decisions countered

In other legislation affecting family law practice, the Assembly passed laws to overturn two decisions of the Court of Appeals of Virginia.

Senate Bill 70, signed into law March 11, is aimed at protecting assets of di­vorcing spouses that are held in joint ac­counts.

The court, in Wright v. Wright (VLW 013-7-048), ruled that a well-paid hus­band did not have to reimburse marital accounts that he used to pay temporary spousal support and his own legal ex­penses after separation.

The new law requires that any court award or order in a divorce suit shall be paid from the post-separation income of the obligor unless the court orders oth­erwise for good cause. If either party re­quests, the court may identify the specific source to be used to pay the financial ob­ligation.

The fix was among bills urged by both the Boyd-Graves Conference and the Vir­ginia Bar Association’s Family Law Coa­lition.

The groups also backed Senate Bill 71 to preserve a spouse’s option to request support.

The new law, finalized March 25, ad­dresses the 2014 Court of Appeals deci­sion in Wroblewski v. Russell (VLW 014-7-211).

The court ruled the wife’s request for support was undermined by her failure to prove her grounds for divorce at trial. The new law provides that a court still may order maintenance and support of a spouse even where a party fails to prove grounds for divorce, provided that a claim for support is properly pled by the party seeking support.

House Bill 642 will clarify that either party can submit required depositions or affidavits in support of grounds of divorce.

A Boyd-Graves panel earlier reported that some circuit judges permitted affida­vits only from the moving party who had filed the complaint, not by a party filing an answer. Beginning July 1, either party can use the affidavit method of proof.


Family law changes

House Bill 668 allows a judge to consid­er all the factors that led to dissolution of a marriage when deciding support issues. Originally targeted at domestic violence defendants, the bill was broadened to en­compass consideration of any factors in a divorce, specifically including any ground for divorce.

A judge soon will have authority to transfer a party’s separate property – held by the other spouse – to the party that owns it. House Bill 404 fills a gap in the law, advocates said.

The Boyd-Graves Conference won a re­form that will extend the exclusive juris­diction of Virginia courts in child custody matters.

Virginia law relating to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforce­ment Act gives jurisdiction to the origi­nating court only until one of the parents moves from the state.

That wording was deemed inconsistent with an official comment to the statute, Va. Code § 20-146.13, and with the lan­guage of the uniform law.

House Bill 497 will change the statute to preserve a Virginia court’s exclusive and continuing jurisdiction to modify a child custody order subject to the UC­CJEA as long as one parent continues to live in the state.

Some children will get more of a say in their foster care plan under House Bill 600. If a child facing foster placement is 14 or older, social workers must involve the child in development of the foster care plan. If the child desires, he or she can chose up to two members of the case planning team.

The measure also will add child victims of sex trafficking to the definition of an “abused or neglected child.”

More juvenile court petitions and mo­tions can be legally signed and filed by non-lawyer social workers under Senate Bill 417.

The legislation was touted as a conve­nience measure for social workers, who often prepare forms to start proceedings in juvenile and domestic relations courts. Some advocates claimed that filing such forms without the signature of a lawyer or the party involved was unauthorized practice of law. A Virginia State Bar re­port agreed.

A 2008 law allowed designated non-law­yer social workers to sign child support pe­titions. Now, the same privilege is granted for filing of petitions for foster care re­view, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order and motions for a rule to show cause.

The bill was opposed by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who warned it set a “dangerous precedent” by allowing non-lawyers to initiate court proceedings.

Verdicts & Settlements

See All Verdicts & Settlements

Opinion Digests

See All Digests