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.
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.