When Virginia residents begin to consider ending their marriage, one of the first questions is what will happen to the couple’s assets and debts. Virginia courts are guided by a legislative enumeration of factors that the courts must consider.
By law, married couples in Virginia can own two types of property: marital and separate (or personal). Separate property is property that was acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage. Marital property is all property titled in the names of both parties and property acquired during the marriage that is not separate property. The classification of property as marital or separate is not always as straightforward as the parties may anticipate.
The basic rule of property division is that the court must divide marital property fairly and equitably between the spouses. The legislature has directed that the court consider the following factors in reaching its decision:
- The contributions of each party to the well-being of the family
- The contributions of each party to the acquisition and maintenance of marital property
- The duration of the marriage
- The age and physical condition of each party
- The factors that contributed to the dissolution of the marriage
- How and when marital property was acquired
- The debts and labilities of the parties
- The liquid or non-liquid character of marital property
- The tax consequences of property division for each party
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to a fair and equitable distribution of marital property
The legislative factors are by design vague enough to give courts great latitude in dividing marital property.