Virginia 2021family legislation passes, including changes to stepparent adoption, child support, collaborative divorce, divorce grounds proof.

This legislative session has many bills affecting families, but the extant ones most significantly changing family law are:

  • SB 1321 Expands stepparent adoption to people who are not married to a parent of the child.
  • HB 1852 Uniform Collaborative Law Act (Passed both houses)
  • SB 1325 Expanding some grandparents' access to visitation.
  • HB 1911 No-fault divorce; removes corroboration requirement.
  • HB 2055 Incarcerated parents may file for modification of support, and will not have income imputed to them 
  • HB 2192 Support orders will require payors to notify payee and DSS of any change to employment status or unemployment benefits
  • HB 1912 Parents no longer have to pay child support to the Dept. of Juvenile Justice
  • SB 1234 makes it easier for foreign lawyers to practice in Virginia

APPROVED BY GOVERNOR:

  • HB 1814 Garnishment of wages; protected portion of disposable earnings. Provides that the Virginia minimum hourly wage shall be used to calculate the amount of a person's aggregate disposable earnings protected from garnishment if it is greater than the federal minimum hourly wage.
  • HB 1878 Juvenile intake and petition; limited appeal to a magistrate on a finding of no probable cause or diversion
  • HB 1998 Public schools; lock-down drills, reduces annual requirement from three to two.

PASSED BOTH HOUSES:

  • HB 1852 Uniform Collaborative Law Act; created;  provides a framework for the practice of collaborative law, a process entered into voluntarily by clients for the express purpose of reaching a settlement in a family or domestic relations law matter, including (i) marriage, divorce, dissolution, annulment, and property distribution; (ii) child custody, visitation, and parenting time; (iii) alimony, spousal support, maintenance, and child support; (iv) adoption; (v) parentage; and (vi) negotiation or enforcement of premarital, marital, and separation agreements. The Act governs disclosure of information, privilege against disclosure of communications, and scope of representation by the attorneys in the proceeding. 
  • HB 2002 Child support; health care coverage, eligibility requirements. Provides that in any case in which a court enters an order directing the payment of spousal support in cases in which there are minor children that the parties have a mutual duty to support or any payment of child support or when the Department of Social Services issues an order directing the payment of child support, and when it appears that the gross income of a custodial parent of a dependent child is no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the court or the Department of Social Services shall notify the parties of the availability of medical assistance through the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security plan or other government sponsored coverage through the Department of Medical Assistance Services. (Amended before passing, however.)
  • HB 2012 Protective orders; violations of preliminary child protective order, changes punishment, etc.
  • SB 1415 Protective orders; violations of preliminary child protective order, changes punishment, etc.
  • HB 1911 No-fault divorce; removes corroboration requirement. 
  • SB 1325  Visitation; petition of grandparent. Allows a grandparent who has petitioned the court for visitation of a minor grandchild, in cases where the parent of the minor grandchild is deceased or incapacitated, to introduce evidence of such deceased or incapacitated parent's consent to visitation with the grandparent. The bill provides that if the parent's consent is proven by a preponderance of the evidence, the court may determine the issue of grandparent visitation in the best interest of the minor grandchild.
  • SB 1321 Confirmatory adoption; expands the stepparent adoption provisions. Expands the stepparent adoption provisions to allow a person who is not the child's stepparent but has a legitimate interest in the child to file a joint petition for adoption with the child's birth parent or parent by adoption. (Continued to special session)
  • HB 1912 Child support payments; juvenile in custody of or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Provides that the Department of Juvenile Justice is no longer required to apply for child support from, and the parent of a juvenile is no longer responsible to pay child support to, the Department of Social Services for a juvenile who is in the temporary custody of or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
  • HB 2192 Support orders; contents of orders, change in employment status, unemployment benefits. Requires support orders to contain a provision requiring an obligor to keep the Department of Social Services or a court informed of, in addition to the name, address, and telephone number of his current employer, any change to his employment status and if he has filed a claim for or is receiving unemployment benefits. The bill further requires that the provision shall further specify that any such change or filing be communicated to the Department of Social Services or the court in writing within 30 days of such change or filing.
  • HB 2055 Child support obligations; party's incarceration not deemed voluntary unemployment/underemployment. Provides that a party's incarceration for 180 or more consecutive days shall not ordinarily be deemed voluntary unemployment or underemployment for the purposes of calculating child support and imputing income for such calculation. The bill further provides that a party's incarceration for 180 or more days shall be a material change of circumstances upon which a modification of a child support order may be based. [SENT TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEE 2/25/21]
  • SB 1184 Standby guardianship; triggering event for child's standby guardianship can include  "the parent's detention, incarceration, or deportation in connection with an immigration action."
  • HJ 582 Constitutional amendment; fundamental right to marry, removes same-sex marriage prohibition; and HJ 539 Constitutional amendment; removes same-sex marriage prohibition. Bills combined.
  • SB 1142 Marriage; persons who may celebrate rites, authorizes current members of the General Assembly, Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General to perform marriages without bond or court order.
  • HB 2193 Settlement agreements; staying of dismissal of case pending parties' compliance with their agreement. Does not appear to be designed for family law cases, but does not appear to exclude them, either. [SENT TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEE 2/25/21]
  • HB 2099 Judgments; limitations on enforcement, shortened from 20 years to 10; judgment liens
  • SB 1181 Special immigrant juvenile status; juvenile court retains jurisdiction to make findings that would qualify a child for that status.
  • SB 1261 Court of Appeals; expands jurisdiction, increases from 11 to 17 number of judges on Court [SENT TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEE 2/25/21]
  • HB 2230 Supported decision-making agreements; DBHDS to develop and implement a program, etc. Directs the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (the Department) to develop and implement a program to educate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, and others regarding the availability of supported decision-making agreements, the process by which an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability may enter into a supported decision-making agreement with a supporter, and the rights and responsibilities of principals and supporters who are parties to a supported decision-making agreement, which shall include specific training opportunities, development of model supported decision-making agreements, and development of information about and protocols for preventing, identifying, and addressing abuse and exploitation of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who enter into supported decision-making agreements. 
  • SB 1328 State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program; created. Creates the State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program (the program) to facilitate child placements with relatives, including fictive kin, and ensure permanency for children. The bill sets forth eligibility criteria for the program, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements.
  • HB 1853 Lawyers; client accounts. Lets the Supreme Court require lawyers to deposit client funds in an interest-bearing account.
  • HB 2018 Emergency order for adult protective services; acts of violence, etc., or financial exploitation. Allows the circuit court, upon a finding that an incapacitated adult has been, within a reasonable period of time, subjected to an act of violence, force, or threat or been subjected to financial exploitation, to include in an emergency order for adult protective services one or more of the following conditions to be imposed on the alleged perpetrator: (i) a prohibition on acts of violence, force, or threat or criminal offenses that may result in injury to person or property; (ii) a prohibition on such other contacts by the alleged perpetrator with the adult or the adult's family or household members as the court deems necessary for the health and safety of such persons; or (iii) such other conditions as the court deems necessary to prevent (a) acts of violence, force, or threat; (b) criminal offenses that may result in injury to persons or property; (c) communication or other contact of any kind by the alleged perpetrator; or (d) financial exploitation by the alleged perpetrator. The bill provides that any person who violates any such condition is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Also, the bill provides that hearings on emergency orders for adult protective services shall be held no earlier than 24 hours and no later than 72 hours after the notice required has been given, unless such notice has been waived by the court. Current law just requires such hearing be held no earlier than 24 hours. Lastly, the bill provides that if the court enters an order containing any of the aforementioned conditions, the primary law-enforcement agency providing service and entry of protective orders shall enter the name of the perpetrator into the Virginia Criminal Information Network and the order shall be served forthwith on the perpetrator.
  • HB 2317 Sexual and Domestic Violence, Advisory Committee on; increases membership, duties.
  • HB 2190 Wrongful death suits; parents and siblings as beneficiaries.
  • SB 1121 Birth certificates; an amendment of a certificate shall be evaluated by the State Registrar.
  • SB 1138 Sexually transmitted infections; infected sexual battery, penalty. [SENT TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEE 2/25/21]
  • HB 2161 Prohibits discrimination against active military or a military spouse
  • SB 1410 Active military or a military spouse; prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, employment, rentals, etc.
  • HB 2064 Recording an electronic document; electronic notarial certificate; emergency. 
  • HB 1953 Licensed certified midwives; clarifies definition, licensure, etc.
  • HB 1962 Foster care; termination of parental rights, relatives and fictive kin. Requires local departments of social services and licensed child-placing agencies to involve in the development of a child's foster care plan the child's relatives and fictive kin who are interested in the child's welfare. The bill requires that a child 12 years of age or older be involved in the development of his foster care plan; under current law, a child's involvement is mandatory upon reaching 14 years of age. The bill contains other amendments to provisions governing foster care and termination of parental rights that encourage the placement of children with relatives and fictive kin.
  • SB 1297 Emergency order for adult protective services; acts of violence, etc., or financial exploitation. Allows the circuit court, upon a finding that an incapacitated adult has been, within a reasonable period of time, subjected to an act of violence, force, or threat or been subjected to financial exploitation, to include in an emergency order for adult protective services one or more of the following conditions to be imposed on the alleged perpetrator: (i) a prohibition on acts of violence, force, or threat or criminal offenses that may result in injury to person or property; (ii) a prohibition on such other contacts by the alleged perpetrator with the adult or the adult's family or household members as the court deems necessary for the health and safety of such persons; or (iii) such other conditions as the court deems necessary to prevent (a) acts of violence, force, or threat; (b) criminal offenses that may result in injury to persons or property; (c) communication or other contact of any kind by the alleged perpetrator; or (d) financial exploitation by the alleged perpetrator. The bill provides that any person who violates any such condition is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Also, the bill provides that hearings on emergency orders for adult protective services shall be held no earlier than 24 hours and no later than 72 hours after the notice required has been given, unless such notice has been waived by the court. Current law just requires such hearing be held no earlier than 24 hours.
  • SB 1168 "Abused or neglected child;" definition.
  • SB 1178 Genetic counseling. Repeals the conscience clause for genetic counselors who forgo participating in counseling that conflicts with their deeply held moral or religious beliefs, provided that they inform the patient and offer to direct the patient to the online directory of licensed genetic counselors maintained by the Board of Medicine. The law being repealed also prohibits the licensing of any genetic counselor from being contingent upon participating in such counseling.
  • SB 1320 Licensed certified midwives; clarifies definition, licensure, etc.
  • HB 1957 Adult adoption; investigation and report. Removes the requirement that an investigation and report be conducted when a petition is filed for the adoption of a person 18 years of age or older on the basis of good cause shown and after a showing that the person to be adopted is at least 15 years younger than the petitioner and the petitioner and the person to be adopted have known each other for at least one year prior to the filing of the petition for adoption.
  • HB 2191 Social services, local department of; location of child in local department's custody. Provides that a local department of social services shall, upon request of the legal guardian or custodian of a child, disclose to such legal guardian or custodian the location of the child when the child is in the custody of another legal guardian or custodian, unless the local department finds that such disclosure would compromise the safety of the child or the legal guardian or custodian.
  • SB 1150 Military Spouse Liaison; position created in Department of Veterans Services

PASSED ONE HOUSE, OUT OF COMMITTEE IN THE OTHER:

PASSED ONE HOUSE:

  • SB 1234 Virginia State Bar examination; foreign applicants. Allows persons who have been licensed as an attorney or barrister in a foreign country, obtained an LL.M degree from an accredited law school in the United States, and been admitted to practice law before the court of last resort in any state or territory of the United States or the District of Columbia to sit for the Virginia Bar examination.
  • SB 1427 Early Psychosis Intervention and Coordinated Specialty Care Program Advisory Board; established

DEAD (UNDER VARIOUS EUPHEMISMS)

  • HJ 515 Constitutional amendment; right of parents. Adds to the Constitution of Virginia the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children. The amendment prohibits the Commonwealth from infringing these rights without demonstrating that the governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served. This section shall not be construed to apply to a parental action or decision that would physically harm or end the life of the child. LEFT IN HOUSE PRIVILEGES AND ELECTIONS COMMITTEE. List of co-sponsors
  • HB 2041 Best interests of the child; assuring frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Provides that, in determining the best interests of the child for purposes of custody and visitation arrangements, upon request of either party, the court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents so as to maximize the amount of time the child spends with each parent. The bill further provides that such parenting time may be adjusted in consideration of certain factors.
  • HB 1932 Child-placing agencies; conscience clause. Repeals provisions that allowed child-placing agencies to refuse to perform, assist with, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placements when the proposed placement would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies.
  • SB 1123 Will contest: presumption of undue influence. Provides that in any case contesting the validity of a decedent's will where a presumption of undue influence arises, the burden of producing evidence and the burden of persuasion as to the factual issue that undue influence was exerted over the testator shall be on the party against whom the presumption operates.
  • HB 1856 Estate planning documents; electronic execution, codifies Uniform Electronic Wills Act. Permits trusts, advance medical directives, and refusals to make anatomical gifts to be signed and notarized, as appropriate, by electronic means. The bill also codifies the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, which permits a testator to execute a will by electronic means. The Act requires that the will be signed by two witnesses who are in the physical or electronic presence of the testator and acknowledged by the testator and attesting witnesses in the physical or electronic presence of a notary public.
  • HB 2005 Disposition of the remains of a decedent; persons to make arrangements for funeral. Establishes an order of priority for persons who have the right to make arrangements and otherwise be responsible for a decedent's funeral and the disposition of his remains and establishes processes by which such persons may assert or forfeit their right to make arrangements and otherwise be responsible for a decedent's funeral and the disposition of his remains. The bill also provides protections for any funeral service establishment, funeral service establishment manager of record, funeral service licensee, funeral director, embalmer, registered crematory, registered crematory owner, registered crematory manager of record, or certified crematory operator that relies upon a written statement made by a person attesting to his right to make arrangements or otherwise be responsible for a decedent's funeral and sets out rights of funeral service establishments when there is a dispute regarding the arrangements of a decedent's funeral or his remains or the identity of any persons who have the right to make arrangements for the decedent. The bill also adds provisions related to designation of a person to make arrangements for a decedent's funeral or disposition of a decedent's remains, clarification of decision-making authority when next of kin disagrees, and procedures in the absence of next of kin for cemeteries or cemetery companies.
  • HB 2003 Consumer Protection Act; prohibited practices; certain advertising related to school quality. Adds as a prohibited practice under the Consumer Protection Act the use in any advertising of any information regarding the quality of any public or private elementary or secondary school other than information derived from the school quality indicators contained in the School Quality Profiles established by the Department of Education or information derived from a school's website or the website of the school's district. The bill provides that the prohibition applies to real estate licensees.
  • HJ 614 Constitutional amendment; real property tax exemption for surviving spouses. Real property tax exemption; surviving spouses of service members who died while serving or from a service-connected injury or illness. Provides that the General Assembly may by general law exempt from taxation the real property of a surviving spouse of (i) a member of the armed services who died while serving or (ii) a veteran who died from a service-connected disability or illness. Under a current constitutional provision, only the surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces who was killed in action is eligible for the real property tax exemption.
  • HJ 568 Juvenile justice; prevention of girls who are victims of violence from entering system.
  • HB 2241 Unborn child protection from dismemberment abortion; penalties.
  • H.B. 2319 Cohabitants liable for illegal access to firearms

Governor Approves 59 Bills Changing Family Law, 46 More Affecting Family Life, But Modifies Gun Restrictions

Updated 4/23/20

By John Crouch and Sarah Panariello

This year's legislative session included many modest but salutary amendments to make family life and family law a little more efficient and fair. There were also immense amounts of mostly political legislation that will have various side effects on families and work their way into family law cases. 59 of the former and 46 of the latter passed. But another 109 of the family law/family life bills we were tracking are now dead, at least for this year.

The Governor has now acted on all such bills that both houses passed (except for joint resolutions, such as the ones passing the ERA, which do not involve him). He suggested amendments or substitute versions for a few, slightly relaxing new gun-control restrictions and penalties, and signed the rest.

This post has been updated throughout the legislative season to track all family-law bills, and many bills on other topics that will affect family life and family law cases. They are listed below based on what stage of the becomes-a-law process they are at, and then, within that, by subject. If anything is incomplete or not up to date, please inform us by commenting.

HIGHLIGHTS

A bill makes pendente lite spousal support guidelines apply in Circuit Court as well as Juvenile, and reduces them slightly to account for the recent federal tax law change to taxing payors instead of payees for alimony. Another clarifies that after "reserving jurisdiction" to award spousal support, such support can only be awarded based on a material change of circumstances, unless the agreement or divorce decree expressly says otherwise.  There is also a tweak to the new statute that made alimony awards in new separation agreements be presumed modifiable unless they expressly said otherwise. That would still be the rule, but the statement that prevents or limits modification will no longer have to be in the exact words prescribed by the Code.

A bill splits unpaid expenses of pregnancy and childbirth in proportion to the parents' incomes, if a support case is filed in the child's first six months. Another clarifies that courts can award child-related tax credits, not just dependency exemptions. The cap on what is considered reasonably-priced court-ordered health insurance is lowered significantly.

Targeted for demolition this year is the rule that in Juvenile Court, fee awards are only based on relative economic circumstances, and nothing else. 

Several bills tweak the factors and presumptions in child custody and visitation decisions, but probably with little effect anytime soon. Judges could consider the motives of both parties in grandparent visitation disputes; and should consider a party's history of violent or sexual abuse even if it involved their other partners and children, not the ones the case is about.

Also affecting custody cases is a bill saying both parents must have equal access to day care records and information. Speaking of day care, a huge change is being proposed that would create a comprehensive system of public and private day care for everyone, like unto the K-12 school system. Similar proposed comprehensive social programs include, at the other end of the cradle-to-grave spectrum, a state-run retirement account that private employers could opt into.

Many others are nice little changes, but frankly minor. One bill would have abolished the requirement for  third-party corroborating witnesses to prove divorce grounds. It passed the House, and the Senate's committees, but was defeated on the Senate floor by four votes. Others put legal notices into online publications and take them off of the courthouse door, and let you send notice of publication orders by email, sometimes.

One perennial minor annoyance is the requirement to file an original of the return or affidavit of process-service within 72 hours. When you're having people served in faraway states or on other continents, as I regularly do, that's often impossible.  The questionable 72-hour rule remains, but there is a bill that allows copies, faxes, scans etc. instead of the original.

As always, there are many bills cracking down on domestic violence and sexual abuse, but there is so little of this still left to do that they are either exceedingly marginal, or so imaginative that their net effect may be to give the bad guys more destructive ideas, such as filing lawsuits to retaliate against, or deter, victims' pursuing civil or criminal remedies. 

Adult guardianship and conservatorship are facing a major overhaul, aiming much more scrutiny at guardians and other fiduciaries.

Sexual freedom and discrimination: One bill abolishes the requirements for children to get a parent's or a judge's permission for abortions. Others all but outlaw "conversion therapy" for minors, and do several things to banish all forms of anti-gay or anti-trans discrimination. And among the first bills to pass both houses are two ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment. 

A few bills aim to decriminalize school and adolescence. A couple assure schools that they do not have to involve the police every time a child does something that might be a misdemeanor. Another says that schools and school buses are not "public places" when applying criminal laws against "disorderly conduct."  Sunscreen would no longer be contraband in school, but the kids would have to stay out of tanning salons. After all, how do we know that they aren't getting "conversion therapy" in those tanning beds? Other bills aim to put fewer children on the sex offender registry for the rest of their lives, and send most teenage "sexters" to counseling instead of child-pornographer prison.

Many bills incrementally restrict minors' access to guns. Almost all of them seem mostly harmless, requiring locking weapons away from minors, extending to age 18 the crime of  recklessly allowing minors under 14 access to firearms, making it a felony, and changing that "recklessly" standard to "negligently." Such rules should be fine if they actually are applied with factually informed standards for what is reasonable, what is reckless, and what is negligent in that particular community and household. But it's also understandable that people are vigilant about "for the children" legislation being twisted to take huge bites out of the freedom and self-sufficiency of adults and youth.

In the big picture, hunters, gun owners, religions, tanners, guardians, sunscreen police, divorce corroborators, wife-beaters and conversion therapists shouldn't feel singled out for cultural genocide. There's also legislation to begin licensing and regulating art therapists, music therapists, naturopaths, doulas and court reporters. If only because once they're state-licensed professionals, they won't be allowed to do conversion therapy.

DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (UNTIL NEXT YEAR, ANYHOW)

Who says there's no free lunch, or that the General Assembly has no family-law visionaries? One bill says child and spousal support can only be based on net income -- not on gross, and not on earning capacity or imputed income. Another says if support is going through the DCSE, the payee gets paid even when the payor doesn't pay. Sadly, despite much talk about transforming the Old Dominion, Virginia is not yet the Big Rock Candy Mountain, the place where, as Captain John Smith promised, "Evereey manne shall cavorte and bee fruetfulle and multiplye under his owne vyne and figge tree."  These two were among the very first bills to die.

A tiny and I hope redundant addition to child custody law would have urged judges to assure frequent, continuing contact with both parents -- of course only "where appropriate" (sigh). This slight whimper was then watered down to get through subcommittee, and again in committee, only to be killed anyway on the House floor, 52-41.

Next came reforms to contempt of court. One bill said that if you bring a contempt case and you lose, you can appeal the "not in contempt" finding to the Court of Appeals, fixing a disconcerting oddity in the law that has come to light in the last few years. As for judge-initiated "summary" contempt punishments, someone considered it helpful to extend the maximum jail time to 30 days. Dead, and dead.

While the great cavalcade of bills aimed at protecting the incapacitated from their own guardians almost all survived, two worthy efforts that failed said that the beneficiaries of guardianship should have a voice in their own guardianship cases, and generally should not be cut off from any other family members.

As if people didn't have enough to worry about, the House refused to let Protective Orders prohibit using electronic remote control of things in and around the victim's home. Well, we don't want protective order forms to become a long checklist suggesting new ways to abuse people.

On the sexual freedom front, much ground is being won, but many sweeping efforts are dead, for this year at least. One of them puts absolute reproductive freedom in the state constitution. Others require employers and insurers to pay for abortion, sterilization, and everything in between on the spectrum of contraception; repeal the "conscience clause" that lets religious institutions with traditional moral beliefs keep operating adoption agencies, and even redefine child abuse and neglect to include "inflicting, creating, allowing or threatening any physical or mental injury based on gender identity or sexual orientation". 

BILLS AND THEIR STATUS

PASSED BOTH HOUSES: 

  • SJ 1 Ratifies Equal Rights Amendment
  • HJ 1 Ratifies Equal Rights Amendment

GOVERNOR REQUESTED CHANGES INSTEAD OF SIGNING: 

  • SB 479 as passed by both houses: No guns for people under any protective orders, not just those for family violence. 24 hour grace period to transfer guns. Anyone under a protective order has 48 hours to certify in writing that he or she now possesses no firearms; failing to do so is a misdemeanor. The governor's amendment changes that failure to certify from a criminal misdemeanor into civil contempt of court. It makes other changes that clarify the wording but do not change the substance. The legislature has approved the governor's amendment.
  • HB 1004: No guns for people under any permanent protective orders. 24 hour grace period to transfer guns. Anyone under a protective order has 48 hours to certify in writing that she now possesses no firearms; failing to do so is a misdemeanor. The governor's amendment changes that failure to certify from a criminal misdemeanor into civil contempt of court. It makes other changes that clarify the wording but do not change the substance. The legislature has approved the governor's amendment.
  • SB 71 Expands the prohibition of weapons on school property to include daycare and preschool property, including the entire building (such as a church) that the day care or preschool is in, but only during the hours when the day care, etc. is open. Does not apply to day care operated in the residence of the provider or of one of the children. But still bans weapons in churches during day care/preschool hours. Daycare may have armed security; that is added to many existing exceptions, such as knives being used for food service or other employment, school-sponsored programs, law enforcement, unloaded and properly stored weapons, and otherwise-legal weapons kept safely in vehicles. The governor's substitute adds that the provisions governing day cares and private or religious preschools "(i) shall apply only during the operating hours of such child day center or private or religious preschool and (ii) shall not apply to any person (a) whose residence is on the property of a child day center or a private or religious preschool and (b) who possesses a firearm or other weapon prohibited under this section while in his residence." Makes a couple other wording changes, which are not substantive. The legislature has approved the governor's amendment.

APPROVED BY GOVERNOR, BECOMING LAW AS OF JULY 1, 2020: 

Divorce

Marriage

  • SB 62 Race information not required in marriage records, divorce/annulment reports, VS-4s, nor divorce statistics
  • SB 955 Civil celebration of marriage fee maximum increased to $75  

Custody/Parenting Time

  • HB 436 Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act; disclosure of identifying information when one party claims it would be dangerous: Currently, once one party claims this, it cannot be disclosed unless the court decides to in a hearing within 15 days of the filing of a pleading. This bill adds "or affidavit" after "pleading." 
  • SB 430 Each parent to have access to child-care records, regardless of custody. 
  • HB 137 Guardians ad litem for children must give certification of compliance with standards.
  • HB 861 Requires courts in custody and visitation cases to consider  "any act of violence, force, or threat as that phrase is defined in § 19.2-152.7:1 against an intimate partner or the intimate partner's child, or any history of sexual abuse or child abuse," in addition to the current requirement to consider any "history of family abuse." no earlier than 10 years prior to filing of petition.
  • SB 105 Requires courts in custody and visitation cases to consider  "any act of violence, force, or threat as that phrase is defined in § 19.2-152.7:1 against an intimate partner or the intimate partner's child, or any history of sexual abuse," in addition to the current requirement to consider any "history of family abuse." no earlier than 10 years prior to filing of petition.
  • SB 214 GALs to review and report on Individualized Education Plans in young-adult guardianship cases

Child Support

  • SB 434 Court may award either parent the right to claim child-related income tax credits as well as dependency exemptions. 
  • HB 637 "Reasonable cost of health care coverage," in law on ordering coverage as part of child support, to mean no more than 5% of providing parent's income, instead of 5% of parents' combined incomes.
  • SB 428 Any unpaid medical expenses for pregnancy and birth to be split
  • HB 690 Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF): Repeals the prohibition on increasing the amount of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that a family receives upon the birth of a child during the period of TANF eligibility or an adult recipient is ineligible because of child support compliance issues

Spousal Support

  • SB 432 Material change of circumstances required before court may use post-divorce "reserved" jurisdiction to order spousal support, unless a contract, stipulation or court order says otherwise.
  • HB 1500 Pendente lite spousal support guidelines shall apply in Circuit Court as well as Juvenile, and are reduced slightly to account for federal tax law change taxing payors instead of payees for alimony.
  • HB 1501 Spousal support in a stipulation or contract made after 7/1/18 is still modifiable if the contract does not expressly say that it is not modifiable, or limit modifiability; but that express statement will no longer have to be in specific wording required by statute.

Adoption

  • HB 94 Must give proper notice of adoption proceeding to legal custodian.
  • HB 721 Post-adoption contact and communication agreements; parents whose parental rights were involuntarily terminated may enter such agreements.

Child Abuse/Foster Care

  • HB 778  60 instead of 45 days for "family assessments" when children alleged to be at risk.
  • HB 287 Extends from one year to three years the period of time for which the Department of Social Services must retain records of unfounded investigations of child abuse or neglect before purging.
  • HB 933 State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program created to facilitate child placements with relatives, including "fictive kin", and ensure permanency for children in foster care. "Fictive kin" means persons who are not related to a child by blood or adoption but have an established relationship with the child or his family.
  • SB 178 State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program created to facilitate child placements with relatives, including "fictive kin", and ensure permanency for children in foster care. "Fictive kin" means persons who are not related to a child by blood or adoption but have an established relationship with the child or his family.
  • SB 472 Foster care; encourages termination of parental rights improves training and information about voluntary and involuntary termination, independent living needs assessments.
  • SB 156 Fostering Futures program to provide services and support to former foster care children now between 18 and 21
  • HB 904  Public sports programs' volunteers and employees shall be mandated reporters of suspected child abuse/neglect

Domestic Violence/Protective Orders

Elder Laws/Wills/Trusts/Probate

  • HB 1378 Codifies the Uniform Directed Trust Act, allowing and governing the role of a "trust director"
  • HB 305  Fee for lodging, etc., of wills increased from low to mid-single digits
  • HB 362 Physician assistants, not just doctors, can make determinations that patient has no capacity to make informed decisions
  • HB 641 Funeral homes must accept caskets provided by third parties, but need not store them
  • SB 261 Accounts filed by fiduciaries and reports filed by guardians must be signed under oath; not to do so is a misdemeanor
  • SB 553 Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act -- rules for selling, preserving, or partitioning inherited tenancy-in-common property.
  • HB 839 Probate tax exception/refund for Virginia Beach mass shooting victims
  • HB 775 Directs Virginia College Savings Plan to analyze private retirement plans; report
  • HB 1222 When notarizing for someone in nursing home or assisted living, a passport or driver's license that expired in the last 5 years may be used to prove identity.
  • SB 700 Wills must be indexed in the name of executor named in the will
  • SB 355 Assisted living facilities; audio-visual recording of residents to be studied, stakeholder-grouped, then regulated.
  • SB 1072  Prohibits the court from appointing, as guardian or conservator for an incapacitated person, any attorney who is engaged to represent the person who is asking the court to order the guardianship, whether representing them in that case or in anything else. Includes other attorneys or employees of such attorney's law firm.
  • HB 887 ABLE Savings Trusts may be passed to a survivor.

Procedure

  • HB 1378 Pleadings, motions, and other papers with missing or defective signatures are void unless defect is promptly cured, or unless there is no timely objection to the defect. 
  • HB 834 Courts may permit notice of an order of publication to be given by electronic means in addition to or in lieu of publication in a newspaper
  • HB 60 District court substitute judges will retain power to sign final orders for 14 days after hearing a case.
  • HB 780 Courts to accept copies of proofs process-service in place of originals
  • HB 1346 Makes it easier to get attorney fees paid out of money that is under control of the court
  • SB 451 Juvenile and domestic relations district court; awards of attorney fees shall be determined based on all relevant factors, not just the relative financial ability of the parties.
  • SB 229 Pleadings, motions, and other papers with missing or defective signatures are void unless defect is promptly cured, or unless there is no timely objection to the defect.
  • SB 771 Interlocutory appeals to Court of Appeals: Just listing it here to note that it does not apply to family law cases.
  • SB 693 Common-law defense of intra-family immunity abolished in wrongful death cases.
  • SB 408 Notices of civil case appeals shall not have a hearing until parties have been served or waived service

Sexual Abuse/Assault

  • SB 724 Misdemeanor sexual offenses; increases statute of limitations, when victim was a minor.
  • HB 475 Virginia sexual assault forensic examiner coordination program; established, report.
  • HB 870 Sexual abuse: 10-year statute of limitations. keeps 20-year when victim was a minor
  • SB 297 Creates Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Fund, administered by Department of Social Services, in coordination with Department of Health and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, to develop and support programs that prevent sexual and domestic violence;  promote healthy practices related to relationships, sexuality, and social-emotional development; and counteract the factors associated with the initial perpetration of sexual and domestic violence.
  • HB 298 Misdemeanor sexual offenses; increases statute of limitations, where the victim is a minor.
  • SB 579 Streamlines & reorganizes Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry process; lower-level offenders will no longer have to register annually.
  • SB 42 Sexual abuse via false representation or subterfuge that is part of a massage by a massage therapist, a medical procedure, or physical therapy, shall be aggravated sexual battery. Regardless of victim's age or competence. 1 to 20 years, fine of up to $100,000.00.

Child Safety

  • HB 1083 Minors; allowing access to firearms, Class 1 misdemeanor recklessly allowing access under age 14; Class 3 misdemeanor for recklessly leaving a loaded and unsecure firearm around a child under 14; no unsupervised use under age 12.
  • HB 402 Public school lock-down drills, frequency, exemptions for kindergarteners.
  • HB 578 Smoking; illegal in motor vehicle with a minor under 15 present (current law only covers minors under 8)
  • SB 173 Stun weapons; prohibits possession on school property, exempts holder of concealed handgun permit, but only if it remains in vehicle
  • SB 593 All firearms in a licensed in-home day care provider's home must be stored unloaded and locked up.
  • HB 600 In-home day cares must store guns and ammo separately, and locked up in a container, cabinet, etc.
  • HB 38 Tanning facilities prohibited for minors.
  • HB 799 Day cares must test all drinkable water sources for lead.
  • HB 1080 Firearms or other weapons; unauthorized to possess on school property.

        But the same bill also adds a sweeping statement with no such exceptions at the beginning of existing Code Section 18.2-308.2:2: "All firearm sales or transfers, in whole or in part in the Commonwealth, including a sale or transfer where either the purchaser or seller or transferee or transferor is in the Commonwealth, shall be subject to a criminal history record information check unless specifically exempted by state or federal law." 

        I for one am completely unsure which section is supposed to trump the other. The exceptions clause is framed only as an exception to that particular Code section, and includes the caveat, "unless otherwise prohibited by state or federal law". Such a "state law" would likely include the existing section with its new amendment requiring a lengthy background check process for all transfers, no exceptionsBut that section, in turn, says, "unless specifically exempted by state or federal law." Would that include an exemption whose text is only written to apply within its own Code section? Seems like a chicken-or-egg problem. Although I would hope that any future interpretation would conclude that the legislature could not have intended a ten-point list of exceptions to be completely inoperable.

Education

  • HB 410 Parents must be notified when student gets  literacy or "Response to Intervention" screening and services
  • HB 256 Criminal disorderly conduct does not include things students do in school, on bus, or at school-related activities
  • SB 3 Disorderly conduct; student not guilty of disorderly conduct in a public place if incident occurred on school property, on school bus, or at school sponsored event.
  • HB 257 Schools don't have to contact police about all conduct that might be a misdemeanor
  • SB 729 Schools don't have to contact police about all conduct that might be a misdemeanor
  • SB 186 IEP teams must consider appropriate instruction about sexual health, self-restraint, self-protection, respect for personal privacy, and personal boundaries
  • SB 238 Increases required kindergarten hours 83%
  • HB 999 Schools must have epinephrine constantly accessible, along with staff trained to administer it 
  • SB 44 Lets students keep and bear sunscreen without a doctor's note, etc.
  • HB 1012 Early childhood care and education; establishes comprehensive public-private system basically like the school system, and operated and regulated by the Department of Education.

Health

  • HB 134 IEP teams must consider appropriate instruction about sexual health, self-restraint, self-protection, respect for personal privacy, and personal boundaries
  • HB 687 Doulas to be state-regulated, registered and certified
  • SB 423 Health insurance; mandated coverage for hearing aids for minors.
  • SB 213 Study increasing the Personal Maintenance Allowance for people receiving Medicaid, etc.

Mental Health

  • S.B. 713 Establishes state licensing for art therapists; emergency regulations shall issue to implement this.
  • SB 633 Music therapy to be strictly licensed and regulated
  • S.B. 1046 Adds clinical social workers to the list of providers who can disclose or recommend the withholding of patient records.
  • HB 308 Students' excused absences for mental and behavioral health reasons, DOE to create guidelines
  • HB 42 Health care providers must be trained in screening patients for prenatal and postpartum depression

Military Families

  • HB 967 Military service members' spouses: expediting the issuance of professional credentials
  • HB 143 Unemployment compensation for leaving employment to follow military spouse

LGBT Issues

  • HB 145 Statewide minimum guidelines on treatment of transgender students to be developed; public elementary and secondary schools must adopt or exceed them.
  • HB 386 Conversion therapy: state-licensed health care providers, and other state-licensed professionals who do counseling, must not do conversion therapy for minors. No state benefits, funds, contracts or grants to any entity that does it for minors.
  • SB 161 Statewide minimum guidelines on treatment of transgender students to be developed; public elementary and secondary schools must adopt or exceed them.
  • HB 1490 Repeals laws against same-sex marriages and civil unions.
  • SB 17 Repeals laws against same-sex marriages and civil unions.
  • SB 657 New birth certificates to show change of sex: an affidavit of appropriate gender-transition treatment from a health care provider may be required, but no evidence of any medical procedure shall be required
  • SB 245 Conversion therapy: state-licensed health care providers, and other state-licensed professionals who do counseling, must not do conversion therapy for minors. No state benefits, funds, contracts or grants to any entity that does it for minors.
  • HB1041 New birth certificate for sex change may require proof of clinically appropriate treatment, but shall not require any medical procedure.
  • HB 623 Gender-neutral terms throughout the Virginia Code, including laws that punish incest, defaming a lady's "virtue and chastity", or leaving one's wife in a "bawdy place", whether that is for the purpose of prostitution or for "unlawful sexual intercourse, anal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, or anilingus"; removes prohibitions on same-sex marriage and civil unions. Seems a bit of a mixed bag for the cause of gay rights.

Abortion

  • HB 980 Abortion: Informed consent no longer includes ultrasound, provision of specified information, or offer to review certain printed materials; physician's assistants and nurse practitioners can perform abortions, abortion facilities will not have to comply with regulations for hospitals.
  • SB 733 Abortion: Informed consent no longer includes ultrasound, provision of specified information, or offer to review certain printed materials; physician's assistants and nurse practitioners can perform abortions, abortion facilities will not have to comply with regulations for hospitals.

Criminal

  • HB 1071 Legalizes profanity in public.
  • HB 245 Repeals the crime of fornication, i.e., voluntary sexual intercourse by an unmarried person.
  • SB 378 Computer trespass; expands the crime. No longer requires "malicious intent" if done "through intentionally deceptive means and without authority." Eliminates "without owner's authorization" element in prohibition on installing keylogging software "on the computer of another" -- the "without authority" element still applies, but that element is only an alternative to the "malicious intent" requirement.

DEAD (BY VARIOUS METHODS AND EUPHEMISMS):

Custody/Parenting Time

  • HB 485 Requires courts in custody and visitation cases to "when appropriate, assure frequent and continuing contact with each parent" -- BUT WATERED DOWN EVEN FURTHER TO MERELY ADD "when appropriate, frequent and continuing contact with each parent" TO THE LIST OF FACTORS TO CONSIDER. And even that was apparently too much for a majority of the House, who, in a move I haven't noticed before, approved the committee substitute for the bill but then voted against "engrossing" the bill instead of voting against passing it. I assume that kills it.
  • HB 350 Requires courts in custody and visitation cases to "when appropriate, assure frequent and continuing contact with each parent"
  • SB 571 Grandparent visitation when parent dead: factors court must consider, including parties' motivations
  • SB 431 Mental health professionals may not restrict parents' access to health records, or refuse to testify, as a condition of providing services.
  • SB 61 Using cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil on doctor's written advice shall not be the sole reason for denying or restricting custody, visitation, adoption or foster parenthood.
  • SB 872 Circuit or district court may appoint GAL in custody or visitation case, subject to standards, payment governed by Code § 16.1-267 which seems to provide for extremely low payment and to be designed for various other kinds of cases.

Support

  • SB 502 When child support is paid through Department of Social Services, the Department must pay the recipient even if the payor does not pay.
  • HB 82 Spousal support to be based net income, not gross; earning capacity may no longer be considered when determining spousal or child support; spousal support shall not exceed payor's net income.

Marriage

  • SB 19 Records of marriages shall not require identification of race.
  • HB 863 Person to perform marriage may be designated by marriage license applicant instead of by a judge's order; may perform it anywhere in the state; no bond required for such persons, nor for Quakers performing marriages; record of marriage may be filed by one of the newlyweds or the celebrant; no jail for performing unlicensed marriage or issuing unlawful marriage license.

Divorce

  • HB 291 Uniform Collaborative Law Act
  • SB 844 Computer trespass; expands the crime. No longer requires "malicious intent" if done "through intentionally deceptive means and without authority." Eliminates "without owner's authorization" element in prohibition on installing keylogging software "on the computer of another" -- the "without authority" element still applies, but that element is only an alternative to the "malicious intent" requirement. [Incorporated with SB 378]
  • HB 1530 No-fault divorce grounds corroboration requirement repealed

Adoption

Child Abuse/Foster Care

  • HB 580 Child abuse and neglect includes inflicting, creating, allowing or threatening any physical or mental injury based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • HB 289 Requires that interviews of child victims of alleged sexual abuse be conducted as a forensic interview at the local child advocacy center
  • HB 252 Causing or encouraging acts rendering children sexually abused; penalty.
  • HB 288 Criminal sexual assault; definition of sexual abuse, complaining witness under age 13
  • SB 32 Corporal punishment of a child with an object; penalty.
  • HB 920 State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program created to facilitate child placements with relatives, including "fictive kin", and ensure permanency for children in foster care. "Fictive kin" means persons who are not related to a child by blood or adoption but have an established relationship with the child or his family.
  • HB 809 Welfare department must investigate any report of child abuse and neglect by any "relative by blood, marriage, or adoption, caretaker, or other person with supervisory control over the child or responsible for his care or ... person who resides or is regularly present in the same household as the child."
  • HB 1051 Repeals "conscience clause" that allowed child-placing agencies to refuse to perform, assist with, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placements that violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies.  Prohibits the Department of Social Services from contracting with or providing funds, directly or indirectly, to any child-placing agency that discriminates against the child or otherwise eligible prospective foster or adoptive parents on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or status as a veteran.
  • HB 673 Cruelty to children; increases penalty to a Class 4 felony.
  • SB 878 Court-appointed counsel for parents in child welfare cases to get additional compensation in the very low three figures
  • SB 501 Adoption and foster care home studies may be done by anyone who has completed the training program; regulations to be issued.

Sexual Abuse/Assault

  • SB 440 Electronic transmission of sexually explicit visual material by minor: misdemeanor, if the perpetrator is the only person in picture or if less than 10 pictures of another minor; alternative sentencing, rehabilitation programs, community service, avoiding permanent record or sex offender status.
  • HB 462 Certified sexual assault nurse examiners; Secretary of HHR to study shortage.
  • HB 251 Prostitution-related crimes; minors, including taking minors or spouse to "a bawdy place", expands sex offender registry, trafficking, pimping, racketeering

Domestic Violence/Protective Orders

  • HB 1001 Assault and battery against a family or household member; prior conviction, term of confinement.
  • HB 628 Lets courts sanction people for filing certain claims in retaliation for, or in order to discourage, actions taken by victims of violence to obtain an order of protection or to pursue criminal charges. This "includes any claim of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, or abuse of process that is filed in retaliation for or in order to chill, discourage, or limit any legitimate action taken by a victim of (i) family abuse; (ii) an act of violence, force, or threat; (iii) stalking; or (iv) sexual assault to obtain any order of protection or criminal charges based on such family abuse, act of violence, force, or threat, stalking, or sexual assault. Any such pleadings found by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack either justification in existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law shall be presumed to have been filed for an improper purpose."
  • SB 76 No guns for people under any protective orders, not just those for family violence. But keeps 24 hour grace period to transfer guns.
  • SB 145 Assault, assault and battery, or bodily wounding of a person protected by a protective order is a Class 6 felony. Currently, this is only if it results in serious bodily injury.
  • HB 159 Protective order may prohibit using any electronic device to remotely control anything in or around petitioner's home
  • HB 1077  Lets minors petition for a protective order on their own behalf
  • HB 498 Anyone with a permanent protective order will get a wallet-sized "Hope Card" with basic info about the order and the people it protects and restricts.
  • SB 82 Protective order; violation of order, armed with firearm or other deadly weapon.
  • SB 89 Protective orders; violation of order while armed with firearm or other deadly weapon, etc.
  • SB 372 Protective orders; possession of firearms, surrender or transfer of firearms, penalty.
  • SB 574 Protective orders; petitioning court on behalf of incapacitated persons.
  • SB 490 No guns after conviction of stalking, domestic violence or sex assault; criteria for restoring gun rights.
  • HB 867 Single-sex domestic violence shelters allowed.
  • HB 78 No guns after even one misdemeanor household-member assault & battery conviction; criteria for restoring gun rights.
  • HB 470 Protective orders; non-lawyer social services department employees can petition court for protective orders on behalf of incapacitated persons
  • HB 625 Redefines family abuse, as grounds for protective order, to include identity theft
  • HB 1288 No guns after two misdemeanor household-member assault and battery convictions; criteria for restoring gun rights.
  • HB 1182 Protective order may include temporary spousal support and restitution for property damage, medical bills and other financial loss caused by abuse.
  • SB 534 Anyone with a permanent protective order will get a wallet-sized "Hope Card" with basic info about the order and the people it protects and restricts.

Child Safety

  • HB 939 Public high schools must teach firearm safety education, and must do so without firearms.
  • S.B. 129 Public high schools must teach firearm safety education, and must do so without firearms.
  • HB 955 Children's online privacy protection; release of personal information prohibited.
  • SB 16 Assault firearms and certain firearm magazines; prohibiting sale, transport, etc., penalties.
  • SB 18 Firearms; restricting access under age 18, purchase under age 21
  • HB 72 Allowing access to firearms by children; recklessly leaving loaded, unsecured firearm. [incorporated into HB 1083]
  • SB 75 Minors; allowing access to firearms, penalty.
  • HB 463 Minors; allowing access to firearms [incorporated into HB 1083]
  • SB 117 Day care operated in homes needs license if caring for three or more children (current law is five)
  • SB 581 Minors; allowing access to firearms, Class 6 felony. Limits
  • HB 356 Child labor; employment of children on tobacco farms
  • HB 675 License restrictions for minors; use of handheld personal communications devices.
  • HB 853 Firearms; recklessly allowing access to certain persons (including minors, but with major exceptions, see Va. Code § 18.2-308.7)

Elder Law/Wills/Trusts/Probate

  • HB 736 State estate tax reinstated, unless most assets are in a working farm or closely held business
  • HB 96 Powers of attorney must be signed in presence of a witness or notary public
  • HB 76  In suits on written contracts subject to 5-year statute of limitations; if a potential party is a missing person judicially declared dead and the cause of action accrued after they went missing, executor of estate has one year from the declared-dead order to file suit.
  • HB 862 Guardianship; limits on how guardian may restrict communication with close relatives and friends; procedure and standards for courts to resolve disputes about such communication; guardian who restricts communication in bad faith or in his own interest may have to pay others' costs.
  • HB 304 Guardianship and conservatorship petitions must include identifying characteristics/description of the respondent, which shall be included in the information sent to the Criminal Records Exchange.
  • SB 352 Encourages avoiding guardianship and conservatorship when a "supported decision-making agreement" is feasible instead; GALs in adult guardianship cases must consider and report on that alternative.
  • HB 841 Guardianship suits: person it's about shall have right to counsel and to participate and be heard. If not represented, counsel must be appointed. 
  • HB 1321 Supported Decision-Making Act: allows an adult with an intellectual or developmental disability to enter into an agreement with another person, called a "supporter," who will assist the adult in making decisions to manage his affairs, giving them a less restrictive means of receiving assistance than being appointed a guardian or conservator by a court.
  • SB 308 Accounts filed by fiduciaries and reports filed by guardians must be signed under oath under penalty of felony perjury
  • SB 697 Execution of wills; requires the witnesses to be disinterested, meaning having no personal or beneficial interest in the will. Being a fiduciary, guardian or counsel does not prevent someone from being disinterested.
  • SB 359 Deed of gift of real estate requires title search for recordation
  • HB 331 No one particular clinical diagnosis automatically means you're incapacitated.
  • SB 1042 Wills; codifies common-law presumption of undue influence. There is a rebuttable presumption of undue influence on a testator if the testator (1) was mentally feeble when his will was made, (2) named a beneficiary who stood in a relationship of confidence or dependence to the testator; and (3) previously had expressed an intention to make a contrary disposition of his property.

Procedure

  • S.B. 663 All health practitioners must assist and cooperate with their patients' litigation and attorneys
  • SB 1060 For good cause shown or upon agreement of all parties, the court may dismiss a case without prejudice.  Plaintiff may re-file within the original period of limitation.
  • SB 334 Court Reporters to be licensed and regulated
  • HB 712 Lets legal notices appear in online publications [Incorporated into HB 588
  • HB 588 Lets legal notices appear in online publications
  • HB 95 Decisions that a person is not in contempt of court can be appealed to the Court of Appeals.
  • HJ 22 Study deficient/outdated training of substitute and retired district court judges
  • HB 163 Contempt of court "summary punishment" -- increases max penalty to 30 days
  • HB 1206 Court may order state payment of GAL for good cause shown in any civil case.
  • HB 401 Court-appointed counsel for parents in child welfare cases to get additional compensation in the very low three figures
  • SB 529 Slight change to hearsay exception for past statements by a person who is now dead or incompetent.

Education

  • HB 158 Tax deduction for K-12 school tuition or home instruction expenses
  • HB 332 Students must receive "rapid automatized naming" and "rapid alternating stimulus" (RAN/RAS") tests for dyslexia and other reading difficulties
  • HB 678 Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts
  • HB 1277 Public schools; reduces number of Standards of Learning assessments, report.
  • SB 390 Reduces Standards of Learning assessments to the federally-required minimum
  • HB 926 Income tax, state; credit for employer contributions to Virginia College Savings Plan accounts.
  • HB 223 Education, recommendations for improving civic education.
  • HB 197 Financial literacy objectives; study incorporating them into math SOL
  • HB 455 TANF (welfare) receiving families to get community college scholarships in pilot program

Health

  • HB 823 Health Insurance Premium Payment program coverage expanded
  • S.B. 858 to license and regulate naturopathic doctors
  • SB 104 Vaccinations and immunizations; certain minors given authority to consent.
  • HJ 18 Universal health care; study cost of implementing in the Commonwealth
  • HB 529 Universal health care; study options for financing.
  • SB 946 State medical-assistance funding for doulas' services.

Mental Health

  • HB 40 Public schools must have mental health break spaces
  • SB 315 Emergency rooms must screen for depression, provide info/referrals

LGBT Issues

  • HB 966 Limits regulation of Conversion Therapy to protect "the fundamental right of an individual to select for himself, based on an informed and voluntary choice, a form of counseling that involves nothing more than 'talk therapy,' regardless of the age of the individual, including in situations where the patient is seeking such counseling to assist him in reducing or eliminating unwanted attractions or behaviors or concerns about gender identity."

Military Families

  • HB 930 Military service members' and veterans' spouses: expediting the issuance of professional credentials [Was incorporated into HB 967]

Abortion

  •  SJ 2 Constitutional amendment; right to personal reproductive liberty
  • HB 1473 Surrogacy contract provisions requiring abortion or selective reduction unenforceable, void, against state public policy.
  • S.B. 635 Right to reproductive choice, fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception or abortion. Even for persons under state control or supervision. Any state or local official charged with violating this can be sued in state or federal court, for injunction or damages, by any person or entity.
  • SB 21 Abortion; repeal of parental/judicial consent requirement for minors, and other restrictions (incorporated into SB733)
  • HB 1445 All health insurance plans must cover abortion, contraception and many other "reproductive health" and women's health services. Extremely narrow exception for "religious employers".
  • HB 526 All health insurance plans must cover contraception and many other "reproductive health" and women's health services. Covering abortion is required when mother's life endangered or after rape or incest. Extremely narrow exception for "religious employers".
  • SB 917 All health insurance plans, including state ones, must cover abortion, voluntary sterilization, genetic mutation screening/counseling, domestic violence screening/counseling, STDs, all forms of contraception, and many other "reproductive health" and women's health services. A very few strictly-defined "religious employers" might get an exception from abortion-funding requirement.
  • SB 920 Surrogacy contract provisions requiring, or prohibiting, abortion or selective reduction are unenforceable, void, against state public policy.

Criminal


Law schools' focus on case-law makes the law & lawyers elitist, undemocratic, bad at their most important job

Larry Gaughan, an elder statesman of family law and mediation in Northern Virginia, recently reflected on the legal profession's excessive focus on case-law, and the attitude that law isn't real until it has been applied in a published appeals court case. Besides the way it poisons lawyers' ability to help their clients, which he so eloquently illustrates, I think there's even more:

  1. It makes young lawyers ridiculously elitist and contentious -- they model themselves on bow-tied Supreme Court Justices hurling pompous insults at each other and at the people involved in their cases, and not on real lawyers working in the trial courts, lawyers who work to resolve disputes before they become trials, and lawyers who try to draft contracts and statutes so well that people won't even have legal disputes about them, and won't have to go to lawyers to know what they mean.
  2. It's anti-democratic: As Larry points out, major new legislation in our field -- even something as basic as letting divorce courts divide property --  is often not understood, and not really recognized, until there is case law saying what it means. And Virginia's appeals courts sometimes take the attitude that revising the details of divorce-related law is only their business, and when the legislature tries to meddle in it or to undo the effects of an appeals court decision, they seem to do their best to frustrate the legislature's aims or use the new statutes to reach absurd and unintended results, as if to say, 'see what a mess you make when you meddle in the affairs of divorce courts!' In Constitutional law, the Third Amendment and, until recent decades, the Second Amendment, are often described as a dead letter because there were no court case opinions 'making them real.'

Larry writes:

"In 1890 American law schools began to switch to the study of appellate cases as the primary means of legal education.  ...  Given that so few law graduates now wind up as litigators, that approach makes less sense with every passing year.  Almost by its very nature, the case system teaches us to look backwards and to think of law as litigation. ...

"The case system made more sense when most law graduates wound up as lawyers whose practices included litigation.  Even [for them], law schools were not great in teaching statutory interpretation.  I remember vividly the problems many Virginia lawyers had in figuring out how to interpret the new equitable distribution statute as first enacted in 1982.  To many lawyers, the new statute really only started to have meaning after the appellate cases started to come into play. ...

"We must recognize that most legal disputes are not resolved by courts, that statutes have meaning even before courts interpret them, and that more law school graduates will pursue careers that require some knowledge of the legal framework, but also the ability to quickly learn and assimilate other kinds of expertise."

Like most lawyers, I have good and bad recollections of my own legal education.  I remember the popular law professor who taught commercial law courses, and the skepticism about another professor who taught criminal procedure.  The former taught us “the law” from uniform statues that were already in the process of major revisions.  The latter was a theorist whose courses accurately predicted every one of the major reforms of the Warren court.

-- Mediator and lawyer Larry Gaughan in "An Improper Focus for Legal Education", The Divorce Agreement Newsletter, No. 53 – July 6, 2016


Throw the poor a bono? The real problem is that pro bono is no solution.

(UPDATE: The Bar will decide on Oct. 7, and has asked for comments by August 31, 2016. They should be sent to publiccomment@vsb.org. If you can't make that deadline send them anyway.)

As the proposal for mandatory pro bono reporting slouches toward the Virginia State Bar Council to be approved this Fall, others can complain about the burden on lawyers, especially sole practitioners and various unconventional lawyers. And they’ve done so at our latest Arlington bar meeting, the last state bar meeting, on my facebook, and on my last blog post’s comments section. But I think the biggest problem with any pro bono requirement is that it will always do far too little to have any effect on the problems it aims at. And this failure will eternally spark calls for redoubling our efforts, and mandates, and penalties, instead of other changes that might actually help.

Pro bono cannot even begin to mend the gap – the chasm – between what people can afford and what the legal system requires them to pay – whether they are coming to court seeking justice, or being dragged into court. We have huge structural problems that can never be fixed by more of the same work being done, whether forced or volunteer.

In some areas of the law, innovations have fixed this gap. For example, allowing contingent fees and class-action suits, to make lawsuits affordable for most people and get them lawyers who are as good and well-equipped as the big business lawyers for the other side.

But family law, my field, is an example of the kinds of law where that’s much harder. A couple generations ago we decided to allow unilateral divorce, so anyone might end up in a divorce or child custody case, but we didn’t do anything to make it affordable, and in fact many trends have combined to make it less affordable. Americans have the right to litigate everything until the cows come home, legal ethics and malpractice standards rightly demand legal advice and hyperactivity that pushes people farther apart and foments litigation, and custody cases can always go back into litigation about what’s best for a child, so costs mount up to numbers that even upper middle class people cannot afford. If hardly anyone can afford it as an individual, and it happens to perhaps almost half the population, then we can’t make it any more affordable by making taxpayers pay for it or by asking lawyers to do the work for free. And that’s without even looking at non-paying clients’ lack of rational incentives to weigh the cost of legal work when deciding how much of it, and what particular kind, to demand.

Lately there are a host of private-sector and nonprofit and governmental solutions popping up to address this need. Some have been around for a few years and become institutions. Some are court-led reforms that sacrifice traditional formalities that we used to think protected the public, so that there are other choices between self-representation and full-service, unlimited-cost, law firm representation. For example, the Virginia State Bar is launching a hotline for volunteer lawyers  to answer legal questions from low-income people.

Many of the proposed solutions are scary. Some need to be embraced anyway. Some are vital but need to be molded to be compatible with the legal system and its obscure dangers and obstacles. Some really are irresponsible, leave consumers worse off than they would be without them, and should be heavily regulated or squelched. Some are downright gross.

But these kinds of changes are the only sustainable and scalable solutions to make legal help affordable for most people. Even more effective would be changes to the adjudication system so that less lawyering is needed in the courts, and even more fundamentally, so that fewer cases end up in litigation. Small claims courts are a great example of this that have been around for generations now. Even tradition-bound Virginia Circuit Courts are changing their terminology and procedures so that non-lawyers can do more to help themselves. Mediation and collaborative law, both for family law cases and other civil cases, including probate and elder law disputes, are helping but a lot more can be done. But even the substantive laws themselves too often are designed by lawyers who think that ending up in court, with a judge handcrafting a custom-made decision, is a routine part of life and is an easy all-purpose answer to questions about laws being vague, ambiguous, or leaving too much to a judge's discretion instead of being predictable. An outstanding example of changing this paradigm, and keeping millions of people out of court, is child support guidelines. But we should look at family law and other civil laws for more opportunities to streamline the interactions between law and everyday life.

I like pro bono, and I do pro bono. To help individual people and to make my own work more varied, balanced, connected, and socially just. But I do not do it to change society or make the legal system work to serve everyone’s needs. That’s impossible and would only make me crazy and permanently disappointed. When I want to work wholesale on fixing the misery the legal system imposes on families, I prefer to "go upstream" and work on collaborative dispute resolution and, further upstream, to learn how to help people improve and save their marriages; and further upstream, to avoid unhealthy relationships and establish healthy ones before marriage and babies are on the horizon.

 So I'm sure I can comply with any pro bono standard the bar throws at me, but my pro bono work for clients is only pro the bono of myself, my interns, and a few clients whom I hope I can help, and their families. What I do pro the bono of the publico doesn't look like lawyering at all.


This top divorce litigator highly recommends mediation, but for reasons most of us won't talk about:

It's really refreshing to hear Atlanta divorce lawyer Randy Kessler say why he thinks mediation is "wonderful" and needed in almost every family law case that is in contested litigation or heading for it. ("High-Conflict Cases: Q&A with Randall Kessler" on familylawyermagazine.com, 9/1/15)

For me, just like for Randy, actually working as a neutral Mediator is just the tip of the iceberg. I act as a mediator in family law cases, but almost as often, I represent one person as their lawyer in a mediation that involves lawyers as well as clients and the neutral mediator. Even more often, I counsel clients who are in mediation on their own. I help them review their written agreements and their personal and legal situations before they finally sign a contract settling all the issues between them and their ex. But far more often than that, I help people through divorce and other family disputes as a negotiator and drafter, as a litigator, or in Collaborative Law, which combines the conflict-resolving  techniques of mediation with the things that mediators cannot provide but lawyers must: complete, frank legal advice; loyalty and fidelity to the client's goals and interests; and advocacy which makes sure that clients' views are heard, that their interests and concerns are carefully and adequately considered in the process, and that before making any final decision, they have enough time, information, advice, and are in a mental and emotional state to understand and make such life-changing decisions safely. 

I'm not a touchy-feely "new age" or "granola" mediator or lawyer, so I have always really liked Randy's style. He mentions one virtue of mediation that I always thought was necessary and should be recognized and developed, but which went against the purist therapeutic, facilitative, non-directive ideal of mediation which I was trained in over 20 years ago. Many people in disputes want, and need, to make their case for justice, as they see it, to someone who represents their community (however they define it), and/or an authority figure,  or at least to someone who will understand their situation, and whom the other party will have to respect and listen to. I always thought of this aspect as "A Mediator is a Person in Your Neighborhood."

Here's the mediation part of Randy's interview: 

Let’s be clear that I'm a litigator who also mediates. I did get trained 20 years ago as a mediator and I do serve a few times a year as a mediator, but I'm an advocate and often hired because people think they need to litigate.

Sooner or later, people will understand that mediation is almost inevitable in any divorce case. It's a wonderful process and it's almost necessary in every case, except when there’s domestic violence or it's clear mediation won't work. It is worth trying for so many reasons and that's why I recently wrote a book on mediation and how I feel about it. If done properly, mediation gives you a chance to settle the case, save the aggravation of litigation, and prevents you from hearing the unkind words of your spouse on the witness stand that will ring in your mind forever. It’s invaluable if you can solve the case without litigation.

There are additional secondary and tertiary benefits to mediation. You may learn something about your opponent's case that makes you re-evaluate your case, or you may learn something about your own client and realize they can't stand up to the other side. For example, if your client falls apart when the other side is present, you cannot go to trial. You may learn that the other lawyer is brilliant or not so brilliant. Maybe the most important point is that mediation allows your client to have a brief catharsis and say the things that many people feel they need to go to court to be able to say. While it might not matter to the judge what your client’s ex-spouse did to them, it matters to the client and they may not be able or willing to settle the case until they've said it to somebody besides their attorney – somebody neutral like a mediator.

Mediation and litigation are not mutually exclusive. They’re part of the process. Most judges require or urge mediation if for no other reason than they know it will reduce their calendar. If half of the cases that go to mediation can settle, there are 50% fewer cases that the judge has to handle. More than 50% of cases that go to mediation in domestic cases do settle.

Mediation is a wonderful tool. When I first started, I remember lawyers saying that they didn’t need a mediator to help settle their cases; however, fewer clients felt like they'd had their chance to speak. I could talk about mediation for hours, which is why I wrote a book on it. ...

From: "High-Conflict Cases: Q&A with Randall Kessler" on http://familylawyermagazine.com, 9/1/15.

Randy's book is How to Mediate a Divorce.


NY's Unilateral No-Fault Law Increases Divorces 18%, Makes'em Nasty, Brutish & Long. Lawyers Mystified.

New York joined the rest of the U.S. and most of Europe a few years ago by allowing no-fault divorces that were unilateral -- not requiring a separation agreement on the economic and child-related details of the divorce -- and quick -- well, quick to start, anyway. Not so quick to finish. Now the divorce lawyers who pushed for the change are dumbfounded to discover that divorce in New York is starting to look exactly like divorce in the rest of the country, the New York Law Journal reports.

In the past, couples who lacked grounds for a divorce or didn't want to assert grounds had to work out an interim agreement and wait a year, said Lee Rosenberg, a partner at Saltzman Chetkof & Rosenberg in Garden City. Rosenberg, a fellow with the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and former chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association Matrimonial Law Committee, said that while he is writing far fewer separation agreements now, he is seeing more divorces—and an inexplicable elevation in hostility. "There is a proliferation of litigation," Rosenberg said. "The amount of recalcitrance and expectations which are illegitimate, the amount of infighting amongst the litigants, and to some degree amongst counsel, is from my perspective at an all-time high."

The number divorces jumped from 49,816 in 2009 to 56,382 in 2010 and 58,556 in 2012* .  "If there are more cases filed, there are more cases in the pipeline and less resources to deal with them. We have judges triple-booked for trials through the end of the summer," Rosenberg said.

"Data from the New York State Department of Health showed that in 2012, only one of every 32 divorces followed a separation agreement, compared with one in seven in the pre-no-fault era."

"Just a few years ago, separation agreements consistently preceded about 7 percent of divorces, providing a cost-effective way for unhappy couples to start dissolving their marriage and a steady source of income for matrimonial attorneys drawing up the agreements." Richard W. Cole of the Albany Law firm of Tully Rinckey said: "Previously, separation agreements were like a two-step divorce because you didn't want to fight over fault grounds. So, the parties would reach a separation agreement and wait out the year without having to prove cruel and inhuman treatment or any of those other unpleasant things that come up in divorce complaints."

Rosenberg said court system is being strained due to an influx of unrepresented litigants and budgetary constraints. The Judiciary, which has been functioning for years with flat budgets, is seeking about a 2.5 percent increase from the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

"It is extremely burdensome on the judiciary and court staff to try and manage these cases," Rosenberg said. "If there are more cases filed, there are more cases in the pipeline and less resources to deal with them. We have judges triple-booked for trials through the end of the summer."

Condensed from "With No-Fault Divorces, Separation Agreements Plummet" By John Caher, New York Law Journal, March 7, 2014. 

Read more: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202645838937/With-No-Fault-Divorces%2C-Separation-Agreements-Plummet#ixzz2vJ4d6MkO


Creationist with backhoe debates more constructively than most lawyers, helps science

 In Collaborative Divorce and other kinds of Collaborative Law cases, the clients and lawyers share all the evidence. Even while disagreeing fundamentally about what it means. Even if they fear it will undermine their positions. That's one of the two most fundamental elements of Collaborative Law, and sometimes the most difficult (not hard to understand, but hard to bring yourself to do).

Collaboration borrows some concepts from science and medicine, in which teams of professionals in various fields pool their information and expertise and collaborate to solve problems. A great example of such collaboration in the midst of conflict, in which both sides seek the truth from very different points of view, was reported in the Calgary Sun last week:

"One of the most important fossil finds in decades, helping to solve an evolutionary puzzle dating back 60 million years" ... "comes at the end of a backhoe operated by a man known as the greatest promoter of creationism in Alberta. His name is Edgar Nernberg, and when he’s not sitting on the board of directors of Big Valley’s Creationist Museum or actively lobbying for the inclusion of creationism in Alberta’s school curriculum, Nernberg operates a backhoe in Calgary."

Nernberg found five complete fossilized "bony-tongue fish", about 60 million years old, while digging a basement. “'No, it hasn’t changed my mind. We all have the same evidence, and it’s just a matter of how you interpret it,' says Nernberg. ... 'There’s no dates stamped on these things,' he says, sharing a good-humoured chuckle about a discovery that has him working alongside the ideological enemy. ... Thursday, the University of Calgary will officially unveil the five priceless fish, which might have been chips had Nernberg not noticed them.vIt’s bound to be a very interesting meeting of minds, as Nernberg stands with officials from the university to show off the find."

Alberta creationist Edgar Nernberg digs up what scientists are calling the most important fossil finds in decades 

BY , CALGARY SUN   

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