Virginia law states that both parties in a divorce are entitled to an equitable portion of the property, as well as debt—this is known as equitable distribution. While this may seem straightforward initially, “equitable” distribution in legal terms can become quite complex.

The division of marital debt is approached in a similar way as the division of property, and the two can often be intertwined. In other words, the value of the debt and the value of the property granted to each party are both factors that are used to determine the overall fairness of a settlement agreement.

Much like with property, debt is not divided by the court unless this interference is requested by either party. As a result, in many cases, couples are able to negotiate marital debt division independently or with the assistance of a family law attorney. If an agreement cannot be reached during the initial negotiation phase, however, one or both parties may ask the court to facilitate the process. In these instances, a variety of factors may influence the outcome of the settlement.

In the courtroom, equitable division of property or debt can be influenced by:

  • The income amount of each party
  • The length of the marriage
  • Who is considered most “at fault” in events leading to the separation
  • Specific details pertaining to how property or debt was acquired
  • Taxes, loan interest, and other obligations that may influence each party’s financial bottom line
  • The ratio of which each party contributed to the acquisition of property or debt
  • The overall mental and physical state of each party

This equitable approach is intended to divide property and debt fairly so that each party is equally able to support himself or herself following a divorce. This could mean that property is physically divided to an equal degree. However, in many cases, more value is awarded to one party than the other.

Which Types of Debt Can Be Included for Consideration in Virginia?

Debt accrued during the time of a marriage is usually distributed equally between both parties, regardless of whose name the debt is under—unless proof is provided to support a non-marital debt classification. Examples of debt that may be equitably distributed in a divorce include:

  • Mortgages
  • Student loans
  • Automobile loans
  • Credit card debt

When Is Debt Excluded?

Debt that was accrued before or after a marriage is typically not considered to be marital debt in Virginia. However, if it can be proven that the debt was acquired to benefit the marriage, the obligation may still be considered marital debt.

What if Children Are Involved?

When children are involved in a divorce, the party that spends the most time with them typically requires more resources to support the household.  This may be an influential factor when considering the amount of property or debt awarded to each party in a divorce settlement.

When couples choose to divorce, most properties acquired or earned during the course of the marriage is considered community property. However, the issue of property division is rarely as simple as equally dividing all possessions between any given pair. Divorce settlements are ordinarily constructed in such a way that both spouses can continue enjoying their current standard of living when possible. If one spouse earns significantly more in income than the other, this could mean that your divorce settlement will include a spousal support provision.

How Long Do Spousal Support Payments Last for The Higher Wage Spouse?

Unless the lower-earning spouse is quite elderly, has a significant medical condition or otherwise cannot seek additional education or a higher earning position, spousal support terms do not generally last forever. The court will generally award spousal support for a period of time sufficient for the lower-earning spouse to raise his or her income level through personal effort.

After a spousal support amount has been ruled upon, the higher-earning spouse can seek modifications of this order should his or her circumstances change significantly. For example, if the wage-earners salary suddenly plummets after his or her employer merges with another, that may justify an altered spousal support order.

What It Means To Be The Higher-Earning Spouse in Fairfax, VA

Higher-earning spouses should not necessarily assume that they will retain control of more assets than their partner will, nor should spousal support orders come as any great surprise. Marriages in America today are most often treated legally as financial partnerships. So even though your spouse may earn less than you, he or she will generally be entitled to half of whatever income and assets were earned or acquired over the course of your union.

How Our Fairfax Family Law Attorneys Can Help

Establishing the value of marital property and defining equitability can be a complex process involving much negotiation and foresight. An experienced family law attorney can help you evaluate the true worth of your marital property and the extent of your family’s debt. Furthermore, he or she may be able to identify unforeseen consequences, such as property tax or moving expenses, and argue your case to ensure that the most equitable and fair arrangement is made. A Fairfax, VA family law attorney may also serve the role as a negotiation “coach” to guide you through the decision-making process.

If you have decided to divorce, you need an experienced family law attorney to help you understand the legal process, walk you through the issues you need to consider and advocate on your behalf. Are you ready to get started? Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.