Pending 2020 Virginia Legislation: Not Much Family Law, But Lots of Laws About Families and Children

By John Crouch with Sarah Panariello

This year's legislative session includes many modest but salutary amendments to make family life and family law a little more efficient and fair, and immense amounts of political legislation that will have various side effects on families and family law cases. So there are only a few bills that do anything significant about family law practice. But there are many that aim to protect children, and which will affect families and will work their way into family law cases.

This blog post will be updated throughout the legislative season to track all family-law bills, and many bills on other topics that could 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.

But who says there's no free lunch, or that the General Assembly has no family-law visionaries? In fact, 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 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.

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; would be urged to assure frequent, continuing contact with both parents -- of course only "where appropriate" (sigh); 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.

Another emphasizes that 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 several efforts at universal health care, and a state-run retirement account that private employers could opt into.

One bill says that if you bring a contempt case and you lose, you can appeal the "not in contempt" finding to the Court of Appeals, fixing an 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 expand the maximum jail time to 30 days.

Another such oddity being targeted this year is the rule that in Juvenile Court, fee awards are only based on relative economic circumstances, and nothing else. 

Many others are nice little changes, but frankly minor. One bill gets rid of the third-party corroborating witnesses to prove divorce grounds. 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 exceedingly marginal. This year's crop includes some imaginative efforts against new twists on domestic abuse which are creative, but sadly, probably not completely hypothetical: using electronic remote control of things in and around the victim's home, and filing lawsuits to retaliate against, or deter, victims' pursuing civil or criminal remedies. There is also an interesting proposal for protective orders to include restitution for several economic costs caused by abuse.

Adult guardianship and conservatorship are facing a major overhaul. It puts much more scrutiny on guardians and other fiduciaries, while emphasizing that elderly people should not lose any more autonomy than is absolutely necessary, should have a voice in their own guardianship cases, and generally should not be cut off from any other family members.

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 parlors. 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.

Sexual freedom and discrimination: One bill abolishes the requirements for children to get a parent's or a judge's permission for abortions. Another 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;, severely limit "conversion therapy"; repeal the "conscience clause" that lets religious institutions with traditional moral beliefs keep operating adoption agencies, and do several things to banish all forms of anti-gay or anti-trans discrimination. One even says that "inflicting, creating, allowing or threatening any physical or mental injury based on gender identity or sexual orientation" is legally child abuse or neglect. There are also high-profile, fast-tracked bills ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment. 

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.

BILLS AND THEIR STATUS

APPROVED BY GOVERNOR: None yet.

PASSED BOTH HOUSES: None yet.

PASSED ONE HOUSE, ON FLOOR OF THE OTHER:

SJ 1 Ratifies Equal Rights Amendment

HJ 1 Ratifies Equal Rights Amendment

PASSED ONE HOUSE, IN COMMITTEE OF THE OTHER: 

PASSED ONE HOUSE, IN SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE OTHER:

SB 186 Individualized education program teams; Dept. of Education to develop guidelines.

SB 214 GALs to review and report on Individualized Education Plans in young-adult guardianship cases

SB 186 IEP teams must consider appropriate instruction about sexual health, self-restraint, self-protection, respect for personal privacy, and personal boundaries

SB 44 Lets students keep and bear sunscreen without a doctor's note, etc.

SB 355 Assisted living facilities; audio-visual recording of residents to be studied, stakeholder-grouped, then regulated.

SB 70 Firearm transfers; criminal history record information check, penalty.

SB 238 Increases required kindergarten hours 83%

SB 247 Gender-neutral terms in no-fault divorce law.

SB 62 Race information not required in marriage records, divorce/annulment reports, VS-4s, nor divorce statistics

HB 143 Unemployment compensation for leaving employment to follow military spouse 

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

SB 240 "Red Flag" Firearms removal from person posing substantial risk of injury to himself, etc., penalties.

OUT OF COMMITTEE IN ONE HOUSE:

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.

HB 1530 No-fault divorce grounds corroboration requirement repealed.

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.

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." 

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 137 Guardians ad litem for children must give certification of compliance with standards.

HB 967 Military service members' spouses: expediting the issuance of professional credentials

HB 305  Fee for lodging, etc., of wills increased from low to mid-single digits

HB 904  Public sports programs' volunteers and employees shall be mandated reporters of suspected child abuse/neglect

HB 778  60 instead of 45 days for "family assessments" when children alleged to be at risk.

HB 402 Public school lock-down drills, frequency, exemptions.

SB 173 Stun weapons; prohibits possession on school property, exempts holder of concealed handgun permit, but only if it remains in vehicle

HB 999 Schools must have epinephrine constantly accessible, along with staff trained to administer it 

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.

HB 839 Probate tax exception/refund for Virginia Beach mass shooting victims

IN FULL COMMITTEE IN ONE HOUSE:

Custody/Parenting Time

SB 571 Grandparent visitation when parent dead: factors court must consider, including parties' motivations

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." 

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." 

SB 430 Each parent to have access to child-care records, regardless of custody.

Child Support

SB 434 Court may award either parent the right to claim child-related income tax credits as well as dependency exemptions.

SB 428 Any unpaid medical expenses for pregnancy and birth to be split in proportion to income, if support case filed before child 6 months old.

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. 

Marriage

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

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.

Elder Law/Wills/Trusts/Probate

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.

Child Abuse/Foster Care

SB 501 Adoption and foster care home studies may be done by anyone who has completed the training program; regulations to be issued.

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.

Child Safety

SB 593 All firearms in a licensed in-home day care provider's home must be stored unloaded and locked up.

SB 71 Firearms; possession on school property.

HB 38 Tanning facilities prohibited for minors.

Education

HB 134 IEP teams must consider appropriate instruction about sexual health, self-restraint, self-protection, respect for personal privacy, and personal boundaries

SB 390 Reduces Standards of Learning assessments to the federally-required minimum

SB 729 Schools don't have to contact police about all conduct that might be a misdemeanor

HB 223 Education, recommendations for improving civic education.

Sexual Abuse/Assault

SB 579 Streamlines & reorganizes Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry process; lower-level offenders will no longer have to register annually.

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.

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.

Domestic Violence/Protective Orders

 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 1182 Protective order may include temporary spousal support and restitution for property damage, medical bills and other financial loss caused by abuse.

HB 880 Protective orders; expedites process to dissolve order when petitioner requests it.

HB 870 Sexual abuse: 20-year statute of limitations for everyone, not just when victim was a minor

SB 490 No guns after conviction of stalking, domestic violence or sex assault; criteria for restoring gun rights.

Health

SB 423 Health insurance; mandated coverage for hearing aids for minors.

SB 213 Study increasing the Personal Maintenance Allowance for people receiving Medicaid, etc.

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.

Mental Health

Military Families

Abortion

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.

Procedure

SB 408 Notices of civil case appeals shall be certified-mailed, not posted on the courtroom door.

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.

Constitutional

IN SUBCOMMITTEE IN ONE HOUSE:

Marriage

Divorce

HB 1425 Race information not required in marriage records, divorce/annulment reports, VS-4s, nor divorce statistics

Custody/Parenting Time

HB 485 Requires courts in custody and visitation cases to "when appropriate, assure frequent and continuing contact with each parent" 

Child Support

HB 690 Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF): Child support collected for non-TANF children shall not be taken to reimburse state for TANF money for parent's other children.

Domestic Violence/Protective Orders

HB 867 Single-sex domestic violence shelters allowed.

HB 1077  Lets minors petition for a protective order on their own behalf

HB 470 Protective orders; non-lawyer social services department employees can petition court for protective orders on behalf of incapacitated persons

HB 159 Protective order may prohibit using any electronic device to remotely control anything in or around petitioner's home

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 78 No guns after even one misdemeanor household-member assault & battery conviction; criteria for restoring gun rights.

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."

Retirement

HB 775 My Virginia Plan; multiple employer retirement plan for private employers and their employees.

Procedure

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.

HB 780 Courts to accept copies of proofs process-service in place of originals

SB 693 Common-law defense of intra-family immunity abolished in wrongful death cases.

HB 588 Lets legal notices appear in online publications

HB 712 Lets legal notices appear in online publications

HB 401 Court-appointed counsel for parents in child welfare cases to get additional compensation in the very low three figures

HJ 22 Study deficient/outdated training of substitute and retired district court judges 

Elder law/Wills/Trusts/Probate

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 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 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.

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.

SB 261 Accounts filed by fiduciaries and reports filed by guardians must be signed under oath; not to do so is a misdemeanor

SB 308 Accounts filed by fiduciaries and reports filed by guardians must be signed under oath under penalty of felony perjury

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.

HB 96 Powers of attorney must be signed in presence of a witness or notary public

HB 362 Physician assistants, not just doctors, can make determinations that patient has no capacity to make informed decisions

HB 331 No one particular clinical diagnosis automatically means you're incapacitated.

HB 736 State estate tax reinstated, unless most assets are in a working farm or closely held business

HB 641 Funeral homes must accept caskets provided by third parties, but need not store them

Military Families

Sexual Abuse/Assault

HB 298 Misdemeanor sexual offenses; increases statute of limitations, where the victim is a minor.

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

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

HB 475 Virginia sexual assault forensic examiner coordination program; established, report.

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 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 289 Requires that interviews of child victims of alleged sexual abuse be conducted as a forensic interview at the local child advocacy center

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 673 Cruelty to children; increases penalty to a Class 4 felony.

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.

Child Safety

HB 600 In-home day cares must store guns and ammo separately, and locked up

HB 799 Day cares must test all drinkable water sources for lead.

HB 955 Children's online privacy protection; release of personal information prohibited.

HB 356 Child labor; employment of children on tobacco farms

HB 675 License restrictions for minors; use of handheld personal communications devices.

 HB 463 Minors; allowing access to firearms

HB 853 Firearms; recklessly allowing access to certain persons (including minors, but with major exceptions, see Va. Code § 18.2-308.7)

HB 1080 Firearms or other weapons; unauthorized to possess on school property.

HB 1083 Minors; allowing access to firearms, Class 6 felony; no unsupervised use under age 12.

HB 72 Allowing access to firearms by children; recklessly leaving loaded, unsecured firearm.

HB 578 Smoking; illegal in motor vehicle with a minor present (current law only covers minors under 8)

HB 939 Public high schools must teach firearm safety education, and must do so without firearms.

Education

HB 256 Criminal disorderly conduct does not include things students do in school or on bus

HB 257 Schools don't have to contact police about all conduct that might be a misdemeanor

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.

HB 455 TANF (welfare) receiving families to get community college scholarships in pilot program

HB 678 Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts

HB 931 Public schools; reduces number of Standards of Learning assessments, report.

HB 197 Financial literacy objectives; study incorporating them into math SOL

Health

HB 529 Universal health care; study options for financing.

HJ 18 Universal health care; study cost of implementing in the Commonwealth

HB 823 Health Insurance Premium Payment program coverage expanded

SB 633 Music therapy to be strictly licensed and regulated

HB 687 Doulas to be state-regulated, registered and certified

Mental Health

SB 431 Mental health professionals may not restrict parents' access to health records, or refuse to testify, as a condition of providing services.

HB 308 Students' excused absences for mental and behavioral health reasons

HB 42 Health care providers must be trained in screening patients for prenatal and postpartum depression

SB 315 Emergency rooms must screen for depression, provide info/referrals

Abortion

HB 1473 Surrogacy contract provisions requiring abortion or selective reduction unenforceable, void, against state public policy.

LGBT Issues

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.

HB 386 Conversion therapy prohibited for minors or when state-funded. No state benefits for it; no state contracts or grants to any entity that does it or refers people to it.

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."

DEAD (BY VARIOUS METHODS):

HB 291 Uniform Collaborative Law Act

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.

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 350 Requires courts in custody and visitation cases to "when appropriate, assure frequent and continuing contact with each parent"

HB 95 Decisions that a person is not in contempt of court can be appealed to the Court of Appeals.

HB 163 Contempt of court "summary punishment" -- increases max penalty to 30 days

SB 61 Using cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil on doctor's written advice shall no be the sole reason for denying or restricting custody, visitation, adoption or foster parenthood.

HB 40 Public schools must have mental health break spaces

SB 117 Day care operated in homes needs license if caring for three or more children (current law is five)

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 16 Assault firearms and certain firearm magazines; prohibiting sale, transport, etc., penalties.

SB 18 Firearms; restricting access under age 18, purchase under age 21

SB 75 Minors; allowing access to firearms, penalty.

HB 1001 Assault and battery against a family or household member; prior conviction, term of confinement.

SB 19 Records of marriages shall not require identification of race.

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

HB 926 Income tax, state; credit for employer contributions to Virginia College Savings Plan accounts.

 HB 158 Tax deduction for K-12 school tuition or home instruction expenses

SB 104 Vaccinations and immunizations; certain minors given authority to consent.

 SJ 2 Constitutional amendment; right to personal reproductive liberty

SB 21 Abortion; repeal of parental/judicial consent requirement for minors, and other restrictions (incorporated into SB733)

 


Using marital contracts to stabilize marriages: past, present, and possible

 Über ehestablisierende Rechtstechniken

On Marriage-Stabilizing Legal Techniques

 

by Prof. Dr. Hans Hattenhauer

81px-Prof._Dr._Hans_Hattenhauer_(Kiel_77.824)
 
Christian-Albrechts-Universitaet zu Kiel,
Christian-Albrechts-University, City of Kiel

Zeitschrift fuer das gesamte Familienrecht (FamZ) 1989, page 225 et. seq.

Summary and Explanation by Antje S. Heinemann, J.D., with assistance by John Crouch, J.D., and Susan Winston, J.D. candidate, University of Miami School of Law

 

In this article Prof. Hattenhauer deals with the need to stabilize marriages and the legal instruments and techniques to do so.

As marriage is a lifelong relationship it is always endangered by its duration. Because of the changes of various circumstances such as society, the spouses’ financial situation and economic development/expansion etc., marriage has lost a lot of its functions and is therefore today even more deemed to be only a short-term rather than a long-term “operation”.

But how have humans in history of mankind been able to make marriages work as a long-term relationship and make this long-term relationship an ideal of a marriage? Knowing that trust of only biological/emotional forces and the spouses’ good will are not enough to make a marriage a “long-term operation”, former cultures have stabilized it with various techniques.

As Hattenhauer states that there is up to now hardly no fundamental scientific research on this issue, he limits his point of view in his article to marriage-stabilizing legal techniques. This makes him first think of some very general questions such as: What is society’s moral understanding and what is universally valid? What is the general social consensus that courts must respect? At what point is the jurisdiction exceeding its authority when it determines what the ideal of marriage?

To find answers he works with various theses:

Thesis 1:

Marriage is the foundation of family. Family is based on marriage and – at best – includes children. In contrast to this, any other model of a “family” such as homosexual cohabitation, a commune or heterosexual cohabitation without being married is not legally binding and it can therefore not achieve the same privileges as a marriage.

Thesis 2:

Marriage is an “enterprise for maintenance”. As society has changed into an industrial society and the welfare state has been established, marriage has lost a lot of its maintenance character and functions. However, it has never totally ceased to be an “enterprise for maintenance”, which is shown by the unbroken importance of support payments. This support for spouses and children will never be completely replaced by government.

Thesis 3:

In addition to this financial “maintenance”, marriages also give enormous personal and emotional support. This support is not replaceable at all. Today, this support is even more appreciated than ever before.

Thesis 4:

Up to now the maintenance character of marriage (both financial and emotional) has been obvious. After the long-term period of upbringing the children the period of growing old usually began. The parents then needed support and care-taking themselves.

But increased life expectancy, both parents’ working, and the social security system have created a completely new period between these two periods. During this phase the spouses are usually not aware of their mutual maintenance obligations and therefore the duration of marriage is weakened. As also sexual morality has changed, marriage has furthermore lost a lot of its sexual maintenance character.

Thesis 5:

The ecclesiastical sacrament of marriage has been replaced by the civil marriage. Today, marriage is legally understood as a contract.

Thesis 6:

Although we see today all these changes to the maintenance character of a marriage, there is still a huge private interest for stability in marriages. It is important for governmental authorities to assure a process of stabilization, as stable marriages ensure the people’s life quality.

Thesis 7:

People entering a marriage often have to make sacrifices such as giving up parts of their personal freedom or privacy. As some kind of compensation the state is giving them married privileges and protection by law. Art. 6 GG, (i.e. Grundgesetz, the German constitution) for example, protects family and marriage. To give the same bonuses to other, less legally binding, types of relationships won’t be justified. These bonuses are such as, but are not limited to, support, inheritance, child custody, and in case of dissolution of marriage, a system to solve conflicts as the law determines alimony, support, division of pension rights etc.

Thesis 8:

As, because of the great public interest in long-term marriages, smart states have developed certain marriage-stabilizing policies, they have laid down marriage and family in the constitution.

Thesis 9:

The history of occidental marriage has been the history of the privatization of marriage. Marriage has become more and more a subject of the couple’s dispositions. Today spouses can determine nearly everything regarding their marital relationship. Since spouses can do so, such agreements, their compliance and their enforcement, need protection by the government.

Thesis 10:

The process of privatization is neither irreversible nor deplorable. Privatization is justified as an act of liberation from governmental constraints.

Thesis 11:

After the breakdown of the middle-class model of marriage (after 1968) as the “moral monopoly,” we find today a pluralism of ideals of marriage. The question today is: What kind of law do we need in times of pluralism, which does justice to all models and groups? What kind of law does not impose too much stabilization to the ones not interested, and does not refuse to give stability to the ones who ask for it? How can the government take care of marriages and create a law that meets all interests? How does a catalog of acknowledged ideals of marriages look like?

In the history of marriage, the non-formal (regarding the entering and dissolution of marriage) Roman marriage, the “matrimonium liberum”, has been surprisingly durable. Alfred Soellner has stated that the reason for this stability was the use of a certain legal technique: the dowry, the “dos”. The dowry was the father-in-law’s contribution to the husband in a considerable amount of money to give the marriage a binding character. The marriage and the financial contribution were strictly connected. Conversely, only an endowed marriage was acknowledged as a valid marriage. A marriage without dowry instead was regarded as void.

The dowry was highly important to wives. It was so important that the father-in-law sometimes had to impose it on the husband. The financial contribution was also a matter of the wife’s reputation. A woman who was not endowed was contemptuous. If the family was poor, the daughter sometimes had to go to the brothel.

The purpose of the dowry was to stabilize the marriage: The profits made out of the financial contribution were used to maintain the family, especially during the first years. The ongoing sanctions in case of conflicts guaranteed the existence of the marriage. Both spouses had to take care of the marriage to be entitled to the benefits of the financial contribution. In case of adultery or filing a divorce, e.g., the wife lost all her entitlements for the return of the contribution in total. If the husband wanted to commit adultery or wanted to get divorced he had to be afraid of losing the dowry, which helped to keep him from doing so. It was also possible for the wife to determine a contractual penalty for the husband, which he had to pay if he had a concubine. In general one could say: He who wanted to give his wife back had to give the contribution back.

According to Hattenhauer this was the reason why marriages without dowry had always been more endangered by divorce than others, and why the Romans preferred marriages within one’s station. A poor wife could be easily rejected but in case of a high dowry the rejection always meant a bad loss. On the other hand, a marriage with a high dowry was sometimes quite difficult to handle for a poor husband, because then he had to endure the moods of his rich wife. Thus, the Romans found the ideal marriage where there was a dowry and the financial background had been equal.

 Hattenhauer then describes the marriage in the rabbinical-talmudical law and states that it was quite similar to the Roman model: Without a trousseau a woman was not allowed to marry. If necessary the money was taken from the community’s funds for the poor. In addition to that, there was also the dowry (which could be in property or money). The dowry always continued to be the property of the wife but was administrated by her husband, who often had a right of usufruct of it. The couples necessarily had to settle upon a marital agreement. Beside certain other agreements the spouses agreed about the “Ketubah”, which was the sometimes considerably high amount of money the husband had to pay in case of the dissolution of marriage (divorce or death). The amount had to be in accordance with a minimum sum and depended on the amount of the dowry. A marriage without a “Ketubah” was not completely valid and considered as a concubinage.

 Hattenhauer states that both dowry and “Ketubah” stabilized marriages. As the capital stock usually was invested in the husband’s enterprises, his cravings for divorce were reasonably minimized. On the other hand a mean wife, whose “Ketubah” had been high enough, could sometimes leave the husband desperate. To explain this dilemma Hattenhauer cites the case of Rabbi Nachman: He couldn’t get divorced from his mean wife because the “Ketubah” was too high, but his disciples finally collected the money to pay him off and gave him freedom.

The purpose of the “Ketubah” to stabilize marriages was clear: The rabbis created the “Ketubah” to make it more difficult for the husband to leave his wife.

Hattenhauer then examines the German model and states that the German law did not adopt the Roman model schematic. In the 17th – 19th century it was held that the common marital agreements in Germany didn’t comply with the narrow frame of the Roman “pacta dotalia” because they were not limited only to financial transactions. Up to the effective date of the BGB, (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, i.e. Civil Code), January 1900, the Germans and Europeans practiced marriage-stabilizing by using various kinds of marital agreements. They had various names, varieties, and a high practical importance. They had such names as pactum dotale, pactum nuptiale, Ehepakt, Ehegedinge, Ehestiftung, Eheberedung, and Brautlaufbrief.

A marital agreement was defined as any legal transaction that determines rights and obligations of spouses. The essence of those agreements was that there were personal and financial agreements at the same time. However, the financial settlements – the agreement about the husband’s or wife’s financial contribution to the marriage – predominated. Being an important financial source for the maintenance of the family, the assets were important to stabilize marriages. The husband administrated the estate and was liable for its continued existence. In these marital agreements the spouses could also agree about the husband making a contribution to the wife in return, or a security payment for the dowry.

Those types of marital agreements were not only settled between rustic, but also aristocratic, spouses.

Beside the above mentioned possible settlements the German marital agreement in these times above all also contained agreements about inheritance (wills or any other kind of inheritance transactions). The spouses, e.g., agreed about the future of financial contributions, reciprocal assigning, and provision for children. The husband also often agreed that his heirs had to support his wife after his death. Thus, marital agreements and agreements about inheritance went hand in hand. The variety of such agreements was enormous, especially in the area of non-codified law, where spouses had creative scope.

The personal decisions in marital agreement included mainly decisions about parenting, religion or an agreement about the place of residence. The custody often was transferred completely to the wife. The spouses also settled agreements about support and education of the children in case of their divorce or agreed about contractual penalties if for example one of them refused the performance of matrimony.

 Hattenhauer states that there are good grounds to consider the German model as a Christian model. In comparison between the Roman and Jewish model on one side and the Christian model on the other side you will find that the most important difference is that the church never stabilized marriages by using financial transactions. As the Christian model of marriage, the holy sacrament, can never be dissolved, and assets were not necessary to enter one, this model didn’t need financial transactions. In addition to that, social classes were not important at all, and even poor people or slaves could enter a marriage.

According to the Roman model the limits of contractual freedom only were the compulsory law and morality. The various effective laws in former times gave the spouses different kinds of creative freedom. The “Preussische Allgemeine Landrecht” from 1794 hardly contained hardly any regulation about marital agreements, but regulated everything regarding the marriage itself. The “Saechsische Buergerliche Gesetzbuch” from 1863/1865 regulated everything in great detail.

All those regulations described as what is today known as the principle of morality, § 138 BGB (Buergerliches Gesetzbuch, the German Civil Code). According to the institutional character of a marriage as an ideal in the 19th century, a marriage rather was a moral than a legal phenomenon. Morality was then the most important limit on the freedom of contracts. In those times it was therefore determined in a very detailed manner what kind of agreements were void because of immorality: any agreement in which the spouses:

- assigned the wife to the husband’s power

- waived matrimony, sexual intercourse and joint residency

- waived the obligation of reciprocal care-taking

- excluded any litigation regarding marriages

- took away the husband’s benefits from the wife’s financial contribution such as the dowry

- adjourned the maturity to make the dowry to a date after the dissolution of this marriage

- conceded the other spouse the right of adultery or criminal behaviour

- limited the husband’s liability to administrate the wife’s dowry

An agreement was also void when it deprived the surviving wife of her property and gave it to the husband’s relatives after his death. In those times, people nonetheless believed that the above-listed limits gave the spouses enough contractual freedom.

According to Hattenhauer the end of this type of marital agreements came with the creation and effective date of the BGB (Buergerliches Gesetzbuch, i.e. the German Civil Code) in January 1900. From that time on, a marital agreement was defined as a contract which only determines the system of marital property. It did not determine any other kind of financial or personal matters. The 1901 book of annotations, Planckscher Kommentar, stated that a marital agreement is a contract used by spouses to determine their system of marital property. On the negative side you can not understand it as a contract which determines personal matters such as the wife’s obligation to follow her husband or the decisions about parenting, etc. Whether such agreements are valid and can be enforced depends on their accordance with the nature of marriage and morality. However, such agreement is not a marital agreement pursuant to § 1432 BGB.

From that time on, people didn’t acknowledge agreements about any personal matters anymore, even if they had done so in a tradition of hundreds of years. According to Hattenhauer the annotation shows the skeptical understanding of the validity of such contracts very clearly, because it points out the fact that such contracts had to be in accordance with the nature of a marriage. Because the BGB was understood as defining the nature of marriage in those times, consequently every agreement about personal matters was void, because it differed from the model described in the BGB.

The annotation to the first draft of the BGB had the same understanding:

“The draft acknowledges the principle of contractual freedom. However, it also points out the limits of contractual freedom. An agreement can only be valid as long as is not in contradiction to the nature of marriage. Agreements about the regulations regarding the marital status of spouses such as e.g. their legal relationship are void in general because those regulations are the necessary essence of marital relationships.”

By citing Art. 199 EGBGB (Einfuehrungsgesetz zum BGB, the Introduction Act to the BGB) Hattenhauer reaches the conclusion that the German law in those times didn’t favor such marital agreements anymore:

“The personal relations between spouses, especially their obligation to pay support, are determined by the regulations of the BGB, even if they concern a marriage before the effective date of BGB.”

Hattenhauer believes that the purpose of this was to eliminate agreements regarding personal matters in general. In his opinion, therefore, The Marital Agreement by Albert von Baldigands (1906) was a fundamental book which pointed out that such agreements are no longer marital agreements.

Regarding this new legal understanding of marital agreements Hattenhauer cites two cases:

In 1900 a court had to decide about an agreement in which the husband agreed to have his place of residence at the wife’s land property, and promised to cultivate the land. The wife sued the husband, and the court held that she had no right to demand performance of the agreement, because only the husband had the right to decide about the place of residency (pursuant to § 1354 BGB). It was also held that even if the agreement had been valid until the effective date of the BGB, it had become void.

In 1905 the courts had to decide again about a marital agreement made before the effective date of the BGB. In this case the husband had waived his right to administrate the wife’s estate, and had waived his right to use it. In consideration of this, the wife had waived her right to receive support from her husband. The court held that a contractual waiver regarding support is void and that it did not make a difference if the wife’s waiver was made freely or not.

From that time on it was case law, and the annotations stated, that all agreements about personal matters were void. They were not in accordance with the nature of marriage.

Hattenhauer says that one reason for this change in opinion about marital agreements and the mistrust against them might lie in the effort to create a uniform/homogeneous family and inheritance law. He argues that the authors of the BGB were proud that they had limited the former variety of 100 systems of marital property to only five. He therefore reaches the conclusion that it was only reasonable that nobody wanted to destroy this success and give the spouses their contractual freedom back.

The authors of the BGB were also convinced that they had created marriage as a “timeless and exhaustive institution,” and that they had created a truly moral model of marriage with equal rights for wife and husband by upholding the traditional roles. This middle class model of marriage was regarded as exclusive. As marriage and family were the cornerstones of the middle class, Hattenhauer believes that this was the reason why the middle class didn’t want to make any concessions for the benefit of the spouses’ individual liberty, and the demand for contractual freedom only led to mistrust.

However, in this new model of marriage the husband still had to be afraid of losing assets by leaving his wife. The new system was still able to stabilize a marriage because of the continued existence of a very traditional social order and the principle of marrying within one’s station.

Hattenhauer believes that this legislation would have been useless if the people’s understanding of marital obligations of spouses had not been generally shared. He also believes that the model was secured by society’s morality. He states that even socialists had the same opinion about sexuality, marriage, family etc. in those times. So he reaches the conclusion that the general moral understanding helped to make the courts find every agreement differing from the BGB void because of immorality.

According to Hattenhauer the acknowledgement of this model of marriage was also supported by society’s unbroken trust in their assets. It was e.g. not immoral if the fathers-in-law sat down and started calculating the amount of the assets while the spouses just enjoyed their love. But only after two decades, in the 1920s, the trust in the assets, and the assets themselves, were melted away by inflation, so marriage-stabilizing couldn’t be achieved by financial contributions anymore. Society was forced to look for new stabilizing techniques.

Hattenhauer states that from this time on a new “asset” for a wife to bring into the marriage was a solid vocational training, as a form of social security. People believed that this asset could not melt away even in times of inflation. The fact that both spouses were working turned out to be a stabilizing factor for marriage, especially regarding its psychological balance. Besides her dowry her vocational training now gave the wife stability even if she gave up her profession to become a housewife. However, even then, stability was still achieved by society’s constraints and traditional case law.

Hattenhauer then describes the current status quo:

- marriage has lost its protection by law

- middle-class morality has lost its general prestige

- the number of divorces and the number of children of divorce who are skeptical of marriage have increased

- the model of an “emancipatory marriage” has replaced the middle-class model of marriage

- the stabilizing legal techniques such as “Zugewinn- and Versorgungsausgleich” (equitable distribution including property and pensions) can be abolished by marital agreements

- the loss of faith and trust in marriage made the concubinage more attractive

- the loss of the husband’s responsibility for the wife’s social security (because of her ability to work) has increased the marriage-age of wives, reduced the number of children born into the marriage, and increased the number of disabled children.

According to Hattenhauer the traditional middle-class model of marriage has no binding character anymore and the “emancipatory model” of marriage is a fad without a function. He believes that this pluralism of models cannot be resolved by giving one of them priority, and that the role of the law is reduced to setting only the frameworks for what might be binding and what might not.

Today, there are various answers regarding the question of what is legally binding, or what is the nature of marriage and therefore is protected by the Code’s principle of morality (§ 138 BGB). Prof. Gernhuber, e.g., names various principles which he thinks are binding:

“[1] The principle to be free to enter a marriage, [2] that spouses make a contract by entering a marriage, [3] the principle of monogamy, [4] that marriage can only be between a woman and a man, [5] the spouses’ obligation to live in matrimony, [6]  that marriage can only be dissolved by death.”

Hattenhauer asks what kind of legal techniques we need in our changed society today, if we see those principles as binding? As the traditional pre-1900 marital agreement, varying the standard obligations of marriage, is back and practiced again, he believes that it can be used as a stabilizing legal technique. The determination of personal and financial matters in those agreements can help to give marriages a more binding character than the law itself does. Hattenhauer states that the creation of various types of such marital agreements has already begun and will continue. Those new marital agreements still find their limits of contractual freedom in illegality (§ 134 BGB) and morality (§ 138 BGB).

Looking at spouses’ considerations as they enter a marital agreement, you will find that hardly anybody has considered it as a stabilizing factor. You will also find that people haven’t paid much attention yet to agreeing on personal matters, nor to agreeing about certain personal sanctions, in a marital agreement, in contrast to financial matters and financial sanctions. According to Hattenhauer the demand for individualized agreements and regulations is especially high. He states that personal matters included in agreements can be: the decision to have children and their raising, the decision who works and who does the household work, the place of residence, the things you do in your leisure time, holidays, relationships with relatives and in-laws, religious decisions, decisions about the procedure to solve conflicts or problems, etc. As each of his listed personal matters can cause a conflict and might destroy a marriage if it cannot be solved, he argues, spouses should agree in a marital agreement about those personal matters and should therefore also agree about sanctions to avoid conflicts and the dissolution of the marriage.

As the regulations in the BGB regarding divorce, and high costs, do not deter spouses from the decision to get divorced, Hattenhauer thinks that it might aid the stabilization of marriages if spouses could agree to limit their right to get divorced. He states that any useful suggestions on this are still missing, and people miss the mark by only agreeing about financial sanctions. Prof. Langenfeld suggested having different systems regarding the financial consequences of ending a marriage, distinguishing between ending because of divorce and ending because of death.

Even the BGH (Supreme Court) had already to decide about the use of assets for the purpose of marriage-stabilizing. A marriage entered in 1976 in a mosque in Munich between Islamic spouses included an agreement about a payment in the amount of 100.000 DM in case of getting divorced. The BGH held that the agreement is valid under the freedom of contract. Thus, it was held that agreeing about financial sanctions in case of divorce is valid. It was also held that this was not a contract about the system of marital property, and therefore it did not have to be in one specific form (such as for example under § 1410 BGB).

But no courage to make such decisions on personal matters can be found yet.  Hattenhauer asks why we go about this complicated detour by using only financial sanctions to encourage the continued existence of marriage. Don’t we exclude from the opportunity of contractual stabilizing those spouses who don’t have considerable assets to lose? Why isn’t it possible to let all couples stabilize their marriages by using clear and formulated clauses? He hopes that the lawyers will improve upon this opportunity.

Then he comes back to his contested thesis about the possibility to waive the right to get divorced. First of all he states six theses:

  1. Agreements regarding personal matters are valid and find their limits in the general limits of privatization in civil law.
  2. A limitation or waiver of the right to get divorced is valid because it is not prohibited by law nor immoral or unconstitutional.
  3. Agreements about arbitration and any other models for solving conflicts are valid and legal
  4. Although entering or leaving a marriage has to comply with a certain form, agreements limiting the ability to get divorced do not.
  5. An agreed limit on the ability to get divorced can be revoked by agreement at any time.
  6. A court should determine the immorality of an objection regarding the waiver of the right to get divorced in a trial, in which the invalidity of the agreement has to be proved by the petitioner.

The train of thought is again, for example:

Wife and husband, both Catholics, want to get married and want their religion to become legally effective (in addition to the official governmental ceremony). Using Privatization in order to express their religious beliefs, the couple creates a marital agreement that they will not get divorced. In addition the agreement states that any litigation of marital issues will be decided by means of arbitration and the arbitrator shall be an ecclesiastical judge.

If the spouses then get into conflict there are two choices: Both agree to change the marital agreement, revoke their waiver and both can move the court for a conventional divorce. That means that nobody can jump out of the marriage hastily.  If the other spouse refuses to agree about the change of the marital agreement the spouse will then move the court to decide. But the Respondent can make the objection that the court has no jurisdiction because of the agreed clause regarding arbitration. If the respondent moves to the court of arbitration, he or she will be forced to find a mediated solution. If there is no arbitrated solution the arbitrator will dismiss the motion to get divorced because of the agreed waiver. The Petitioner can appeal by citing § 1041 Nr. 2 ZPO and proving the immorality of the Respondent’s objection regarding the waiver. Finally, the way out of a marriage should never be absolutely excluded as the last solution, but the way out should be restricted. This complies with the principle of tolerance and pluralism.

It is now necessary to show what sort of model of marriage will be more successful. In open concurrence to the already existing variety of dangerous and insecure models of concubinages, we will have a variety of secure marital agreements in which the demand for stability and the waiver of the right to get divorced will find their place. It will be personal self-fulfillment instead of being kept in leading strings by the government: In dubio pro libertate! [Meaning, in all cases that are in doubt, rule in favor of freedom. In English law, stated as “in statu dubio semper erit pro libertate iudicandum”. Bracton, f. 191 b]


Pros and cons of one-year vs. two-year separation period for contested divorce litigation -- a divorce lawyer reflects

At the end of 2017, couples began to be affected by Pennsylvania's the new divorce law, which cut the living-apart period before filing contested no-fault divorce litigation, without mutual consent and without all the financial and child-related issues worked out, from two years to one year. Carolyn R. Mirabile, a partner and family law group head at Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby in Norristown, Pa., looks back at what seemed to have worked better under the old law, and what improvements she hopes for from the new law. 

One Year Later On the One-Year Separation

By Carolyn R. Mirabile in The Intelligencer - Mar 15, 2018


2018 Va. family law legislation: Alimony, court reporter reform, abuse prevention, child support, inheritance, violence, legalized adultery?

UPDATED APRIL 10, 2018

MODIFICATION BY THE GOVERNOR 

  •  HB 1351 Joint legal or physical child custody; custody and visitation decisions, communication to parties. Governor added: In any case or proceeding involving the custody or visitation of a child, to enable the child to apply for a state or federal benefit and upon the request of any party, the court shall make any finding of fact required by state or federal law in order for the child to receive such benefit. The existing language, which the Governor did not change, is: "The court shall consider and may award joint legal, joint physical, or sole custody, and there shall be no presumption in favor of any form of custody."  The bill's original text, completely replaced as it went through both houses, was, "The consideration of "joint physical custody" means the court shall consider custody and visitation arrangements that are reasonably constructed to maximize a child's time with each parent to the greatest extent possible in the child's best interests." At least the statute still says, "The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children." 

ENACTED, SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

KILLED (incl. passed by, stricken, tabled, continued to next year ...)

  • HB 599 Child support; nonpayment, amount of arrearage paid, suspension of driver's license.
  • HB 1223 Erin's Law, having schools educate children to recognize, resist and report molestation
  • HB 661 Assault and battery against a family or household member; enhanced, penalty. [Passed house, passed senate with substitute,  each house insisted on its own version, time ran out for Conference Committee]
  • HB 411 Assisted conception; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
  • HB 998 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency. [Passed House, continued to 2019 in Senate committee]
  • HB 807 Custody and visitation agreements; best interests of the child, violent abuse of other family members
  • HB 412 Marriage-related criminal laws; gender-neutral terms, adultery repeal, penalty.
  • HB 413 Adoption; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
  • HB 414 Same-sex marriage; marriage laws, gender-neutral terms.
  • HB 478 Domestic violence-related misdemeanors; enhanced, penalty.
  • HB 1237 Assault and battery against a family or household member; first offense, enhanced penalty.
  • HB 149 Child support order payee; change in physical custody of child, orders involving DSS.
  • HB 1331 Child support; review of guidelines federal compliance.
  • SB 64 Custody and visitation decisions; communication to parties required in writing.
  • SB 70 Custody and visitation; rights of parents with a disability.
  • SB 178 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency.
  • SB 596 Victims of domestic violence, etc.; firearms safety or training course.
  • SB 603 Same-sex marriage; gender-neutral terms.
  • SB 612 Assisted conception; parentage presumption.
  • SB 727 FOIA; exemptions for courts of record, courts not of records and Office of the Executive Secretary
  • SB 938 Child support; withholding of income, contracts with an independent contractor.
  • HB 216 Guardians, licensed physician, etc.; annual reports to include medical examination.
  • HB 383 Missing-heir search firms; void contracts.
  • HB 406 Guardianship; protects communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
  • HB 406 Guardianship; communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
  • HB 1403 Electronic wills; requirements.
  • HB 1565 Presumption of death; missing person reports.

 Compiled by John Crouch, updated by John Crouch and Sarah Araman


Where Congress's attack on alimony tax exclusion came from: Both sides' explanations insufficient, not reality-based. Here's what we know:

The House-passed GOP tax bill shifts the tax burden on alimony from alimony payors to recipients. I.e., about 97% of the time, from divorced women to divorced men, who we all assume are in higher tax brackets than their exes. Currently, alimony is considered part of the recipient's taxable income, and not the payor's. The change would affect alimomy from post-2017 court orders or agreements, including modifications of earlier orders.(There's one feature of the bill that's completely good, and apparently not controversial: Including alimony payments pursuant to a written marital agreement, with no court order, in the definition of alimony.)

 It's important to sometimes pause from a search for subtle "incentives" and subliminal effects, and remind ourselves what the most basic and obvious effect of a policy change is: In this case, taxing men instead of women on tens of thousands, sometimes over $100,000, of annual income. Alimony is all or most of many divorced women's incomes, and can already take a very large fraction of some men's incomes. Virginia's guidelines call for at least 28% of a breadwinner's gross income as alimony to a non-working spouse, and that's before child support, and before any deductions from his paycheck for taxes, social security, etc. 

Lawyers, journalists and even the National Organization for Women have attacked the proposal, not for being anti-male, but for changing the law's current incentive for men to agree to pay alimony, and thus reducing the amount of alimony women would get. The change probably would have that effect, but that whole argument probably only occurred to them because this is a Republican proposal and it fits the narrative of a GOP "War on Women". Ordinarily, women's groups would be all for something that shifts divorce women's tax burdens wholesale onto their exes.

Blogger Stuart Levine, and many columnists quoting him, including Kevin Drum at the usually more thorough Mother Jones, have really only speculated about why anyone would want to do such a thing. Liberal writers and the supposably* conservative proponents of the change seem to share the mutually convenient illusion that this is an attack on divorce, on behalf of Christian morality. But that simply has nothing to do with how divorce, alimony or taxes actually work. The GOP Ways & Means Committee Summary says only this on behalf of the change:

  • The provision would eliminate what is effectively a “divorce subsidy” under current law, in that a divorced couple can often achieve a better tax result for payments between them than a married couple can.
  • ... spousal support as a consequence of a divorce or separation should have the same tax treatment as the provision of spousal support within the context of a married couple, as well as the provision of child support.
  • ... the provision would increase revenues by $8.3 billion over 2018-27.

Frankly, living as close to Republican Washington as I do, it sounds like a young staffer who doesn't know anyone who pays alimony, who hasn't been invovled in a divorce, and just recently got off the parental  tax returns and started filing form 1040-EZ, was thrown mysterious, possibly garbled instructions for changing something about alimony taxation, and was given 15 minutes to come up with some Republican-sounding arguments for it. But actually, the proposal was part of an early-2014 "Tax Reform Act" introduced by former Ways & Means chair Rep. Dave Camp, now retired,  and the arguments above are repeated verbatim from the Committee Summary of that bill. 

The "subsidy" argument, to the extent that it's either launched or received as an attempt to discourage divorce, partakes of the long-standing and totally wrongheaded assumption that "a couple" decides to get divorced, and may be incentivized, rewarded or punished for doing so. This dates back to the early days of no-fault divorce reform, when reformers picked the most compelling poster-children, decent people who both wanted to divorce but who were caged in "Holy Deadlock" by laws that denied them a divorce even when they both wanted one. Some conservatives and moralists, being apparently unfamiliar with divorce, and gullible about letting their opponents pick the battlefield and define its terms, compliantly responded that these couples were hastily giving up on their marriage and should be incentivized, restricted, counseled, and/or made to wait to see if it's what "they" really wanted. And whenever any change to loosen or tighten divorce laws is proposed, the same old arguments are dusted off, even though divorce decisions have long been unilateral and the proposed changes hardly ever would affect the "poster children" whom the arguments describe. 

Individuals decide to divorce, pay taxes after divorce, and might or might not respond to incentives. Couples don't and can't.

The Committee's equality-based argument is even more surreal. Spousal support after separation or divorce is very different from what the Committee refers to as "spousal support within the context of a married couple", which it says should receive the same tax treatment. Uh, a married couple that isn't separated lives together as a family and an economic unit, and doesn't pay support checks to each other. And they can't get "the same tax treatment", because a married couple files taxes jointly or as the very disadvantageous "married filing separately", while divorced people file as single, or jointly with their new spouses. Again, this sounds like college debaters grasping for arguments about parts of adult life that they know nor care nothing about. 

 Here's what might have led to this: Veteran Congressman Lloyd Doggett D-TX last year was pushing a plan to require 1099s for alimony payments, citing a Treasury study showing about $2.3 billion a year in alimony excluded from payors' income but never reported by recipients. He wanted to use the revenue it gleaned to help states improve their foster care systems."He has been discussing the issue with Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady," Congressional Quarterly Roll Call reported. Perhaps the drafters set out to do what Doggett proposed, then realized that it would be simpler, cheaper, and revenue-positive to eliminate the tax code's recognition of alimony entirely, and seized on the 2014 proposal and arguments. It's probably the pet project of one Ways & Means member or staffer who's been there since Camp was Chair.

But where are the deeper, more extensive arguments that ordinarily would lead to something like this? To find out I traced backwards from the only article I found in favor of the change, "A Human Capital Theory of Alimony and Tax", by feminist law professor  Tessa Davis in the  George Mason Law Review. The only part of it I've thoroughly read is its abstract, every word of which is totally wrong, except for the stuff about "Family Law Theory", the entire posited existence of which is not only wrong, but should not be conceiveable in a rational world where people care about the real-life effects of anything. Even to utter its name, silently to oneself,  throws down a gauntlet and crosses a Rubicon into a world where mere Families and Laws will henceforth be trivial playthings in the tiny hands of academic Theories and their adepts and familiars.

And yet I cannot help but admire Davis for having the monumental audacity to claim to speak for "a scholarly consensus" in favor of some kind of fundamental change. She cites only two previous proposals for tax law to disregard alimony: Rep. Camp's 2014 bill, and Donald H. Berman, "The Alimony Deduction: Time to Slaughter the Sacred Cow," 4 Am. J. of Tax Pol’y 49 (1985). Berman called the exclusion "inequitable, complex and arbitrary", and above all, unnecessary now that marginal tax rates had declined from a healthy, vigorous 91% to a negligible 50%. More of the history of dissent from the current regime can be learned from another, very solid, article Davis cites, Deborah Geier, "Simplifying and Rationalizing the Federal Income Tax Law Applicable to Transfers in Divorce," 55 TAX LAWYER 363 (2001).  It recounts that in the mid-1980s, Senate Finance Committee staffers proposed totally eliminating the alimony exclusion. They tried to rally women's groups to their side. The ultimate results they got, and possibly what they were aiming for all along, were incremental restrictions that may have helped increase revenue and predictability.  (Id., pp. 404-406.)  The article advocates letting couples choose who'll pay the taxes on any forms of support or property transfers, with a default rule that the recipient has to pay them. It cites a very similar proposal, Laurie L. Malman, "Unfinished Reform: The Tax Consequences of Divorce," 61 N.Y.U. L. REV. 363, 367 (1986).

 Davis's own argument is that alimony in a divorce is mostly viewed as compensation for "human capital," or return on investment or compensation for loss, none of which are taxed, and that any distinction between it and property transfers is artificial. (See pp. 50-55 of her article, downloadable from the abstract web page.) (Malman made similar arguments for her free-choice proposal.)

But the problem is, normal alimony, the kind that qualifies for the tax exclusion, almost always comes directly from someone's income -- where, unlike property, it get taxed if the Code doesn't exclude it -- and goes to provide income for someone else. The IRS has established clear, easily-followed boundaries between regular alimony and non-qualifying lump-sums that are more like property division. And in real alimony negotiations and trials, alimony is almost totally based on income -- needs and ability to pay. Yes, decisions are sometimes influenced by arguments about spouses' contributions to the marriage, but when statutes,  judges and litigants look at women having sacrificed their own careers for the sake of a husband's career or to raise children, their point is that the women have a legitimate reason for needing supplemental income, and that it may take time for them to wholly or partly "rehabilitate" their earning potential.

Once again, this time on the left, the theorists are looking at the subtler reasons for alimony and missing what it obviously IS and what it's almost always FOR in real life.

 

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* "Supposably" is a real word. It's from Seinfeld.


Bills would let unregulated gov't non-lawyers file serious court cases against parents, without a lawyer's signature

A bill now in Virginia's  Senate and House of Delegates would let Virginia welfare agencies file court cases against parents without a lawyer signing off on the case -- fundamentally changing the traditional role of law practice as a regulated, accountable profession bound by ethics rules. These are very serious cases that can take apart families, destroy parents' finances and livelihoods, and lead to their being jailed for contempt.

Currently, legal ethics rules, court rules, and the Sanctions statute require all lawsuits to be signed by a lawyer (except for people who represent themselves), and require the lawyer to believe, after due investigation, that the suit is well-founded in the facts and the law and not filed simply to harass, impoverish or delay the other party. They also require lawyers to be truthful to courts, opponents and others involved.  The bill, and the statutes it amends, do not do anything to make these new case-filers subject to those rules. And even if it did, that would not be the same as requiring a lawyer to put her credibility and hard-earned license on the line every time she signs a court filing. 

Welfare agencies do great work but like anyone, they do get things wrong, out of negligence or simply normal human imperfection, not malevolence or corruption. Requiring a lawyer to sign off on these case filings is an important protection for the public, reducing the chances of a completely groundless prosecution, ensuring due process of law, and providing accountability when things go wrong. An example, where a judge felt strongly that sanctions and lawyers' fees should be awarded to the victim of a groundless civil child-abuse suit, is FAIRFAX COUNTY DEPT. OF HUMAN DEV. V. DONALD, 251 Va. 227 (Va. 1996). 

The drafters seem to think that providing standard, foolproof check-box forms (which already exist) removes the need for lawyers. But having non-lawyers draft the forms is never a problem and is not the issue. The issue is protecting citizens and courts, by holding even the do-goodingest government agencies to the same basic rules that govern any other person, corporation or agency that takes someone else to court.

The bill adds to Code § 16.1-260 on Juvenile Court filings:

"designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services may complete, sign, and file with the clerk, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitions for foster care review, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order, and motions for a rule to show cause;"

[Note: "Motions to amend or review" includes modification of any existing child custody, visitation or placement order. "Rule to show cause" means contempt of court, including up to a year in jail and setting amounts of support arrears to be paid in order to get out of jail.]

It adds to § 54.1-3900, on who can practice law:

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services from appearing before an intake officer to initiate a case in accordance with subsection A of § 16.1-260 on behalf of the local department of social services.

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services from completing, signing, and filing with the clerk of the juvenile and domestic relations district court, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitions for foster care review, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order, or motions for a rule to show cause.

And it adds to Code § 63.2-332, "The local director shall designate nonattorney employees who are authorized to (i) initiate a case on behalf of the local department by appearing before an intake officer or (ii) complete, sign, and file with the clerk of the juvenile and domestic relations district court, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitions for foster care review, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order, or motions for a rule to show cause."

The proposal is in two bills which appear identical: House Bill 589 and SB 417SB 417 passed the State Senate 20 to 17, with three Senators not voting. I'm proud to say my William & Mary law classmates Jennifer Wexton and Ryan McDougle, Fairfax Senators Chap Petersen and Scott Surovell, my old Senator Tommy Norment, and Donald McEachin all voted Nay. It is now in the House Courts of Justice - Civil Law Subcommittee. It is on the Committee's agenda for this coming Monday, Feb. 22. The subcommittee's members are Delegates Habeeb (Chairman), Kilgore, Loupassi, Minchew, Leftwich, Campbell, Miyares, Toscano, McClellan,  and Krizek. The full Courts committee's members are Delegates Albo (Chairman), Kilgore, Bell, Robert B., Cline, Gilbert, Miller, Loupassi, Habeeb, Minchew, Morris, Leftwich, Adams,Campbell, Collins, Miyares, Watts, Toscano, Herring, McClellan, Hope, Mason, and Krizek.

HBl 589 passed the House almost unanimously and is now in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, which also meets this coming Monday.

Almost as bad, I see that Code § 54.1-3900 already has existing language allowing this practice for child-support filings. Even though Social Services already has its own internal administrative tribunals that can make and review child support orders without lawyers. It reads:

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of the Department of Social Services from completing, signing and filing petitions and motions relating to the establishment, modification, or enforcement of support on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia in Department cases in the juvenile and domestic relations district courts. 

If I understand correctly, this was added a few years ago to protect the validity of existing support orders after it was discovered that some non-lawyer social services employees were already doing this. But they could have done that without allowing the practice to continue and be authorized by the state. The existing language is bad enough but the new version would cover many more kinds of cases. Ideally, an amendment-as substitute should delete that existing language and drop all the new language currently in SB417

If you want to see what protections this bill takes away from parents, Here is Code § 8.01-271.1:

§ 8.01-271.1. Signing of pleadings, motions, and other papers; oral motions; sanctions.

Except as otherwise provided in §§ 16.1-260 and 63.2-1901, every pleading, written motion, and other paper of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record in his individual name, and the attorney's address shall be stated on the first pleading filed by that attorney in the action. A party who is not represented by an attorney, including a person confined in a state or local correctional facility proceeding pro se, shall sign his pleading, motion, or other paper and state his address.

The signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certificate by him that (i) he has read the pleading, motion, or other paper, (ii) to the best of his knowledge, information and belief, formed after reasonable inquiry, it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and (iii) it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation. If a pleading, written motion, or other paper is not signed, it shall be stricken unless it is signed promptly after the omission is called to the attention of the pleader or movant.

An oral motion made by an attorney or party in any court of the Commonwealth constitutes a representation by him that (i) to the best of his knowledge, information and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law, and (ii) it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.

If a pleading, motion, or other paper is signed or made in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, shall impose upon the person who signed the paper or made the motion, a represented party, or both, an appropriate sanction, which may include an order to pay to the other party or parties the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, motion, or other paper or making of the motion, including a reasonable attorney's fee.


#KansasSpermDonor media coverage spreads savage, medieval notions of children as trade goods

In a case that has gone on for years now, a couple found a sperm donor on craigslist instead of going to a sperm bank or fertility clinic. States have laws that say sperm donors won't be considered fathers, but they require several procedures, standards and safeguards, and a licensed clinic must be responsible for the procedure. 

Some media coverage has perpetuated the inhumane, patriarchal, but still widespread notions that children are property to be bought and sold  by contract, and that child support is a trade-off for visitation. Fox's WHTI TV 10 in Terre Haute, Indiana says in today's story on the case, "Kansas sperm donor fights back after state forces him to pay child support":

"'Angie and Jennifer are the parents,' Marotta said. The state of Kansas won’t accept that. Despite the fact that the lesbian couple and Marotta signed a contract giving up all parental rights to the child."

"According to Marotta his lawyer has only found one other case in the United States where this has happened, but in that case the sperm donor had changed his mind and requested visitation with the child. Something Marotta’s never wanted, or asked for."

The social services spokesperson quoted in the article has it exactly right: 

“If an individual wants to have the protections of a sperm donor, he needs to follow the law. ... Parental rights can not be signed away without following adoption laws.

And that's exactly what those involved should have done, at least after Kansas's Supreme Court upheld a trial court decision recognizing gay co-parenthood in February of 2013. The Court's opinion in that case shows how it differs from this one:

The coparenting agreement before us cannot be construed as a prohibited sale of the children because the biological mother retains her parental duties and responsibilities. The agreement is not injurious to the public because it provides the children with the resources of two persons, rather than leaving them as the fatherless children of an artificially inseminated mother. 

 I am for freedom of contract and against government interference, far more than almost anyone else I know. But your freedom of contract ends where your children's fundamental rights and interests begin. Including the child's right to parents, recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.* Because of that, courts and other government agencies are in charge of investigating and approving adoptions. That authority is exercised pretty minimally in cases that are based on mutual consent, particularly where one biological parent remains a parent, but it is still crucial for the government to have a role in any change so fundamental as changing who a person's parents are. This gives the state and judges a chance to oversee the process, to verify the parents' informed consent, to step in when it looks like the adoption is not in the child's interests, and to have uniform official records confirming legal parent-child relationships.

*Relevant Parts of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

The family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community." (CRC Preamble)

The child ... shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. (CRC Art. 7)

 States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. (CRC Art. 8(1))

States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child's place of residence. (CRC Art. 9(1))

States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interests. (CRC Art. 9(3))

States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. (CRC Art. 14(2))

 


Alimony still relevant for many, not so for many others

Leading Minneapolis family lawyer Nancy Zalusky Berg shared this article, commenting that "the law in Minnesota is very clear - every parent is expected to work - there is no such thing as a stay-at-home mom anymore."

For many men and women, that's reality, that's modernity, that's how it should be. "Alimony" strikes them as a form of medieval serfdom. But for many other families I deal with in Northern Virginia, contemporary life is not really as modern as that idealized vision of economically autonomous individuals. And in fact, maybe that vision is not truly modern at all. Minneapolis family lawyer Michael Boulette says that for many, marriage is still more than a passing association of economic producers and consumers. People still sacrifice individual career goals for the family's overall well-being. I agree.

SHOULD WE REALLY CELEBRATE THE END OF ALIMONY?

By MICHAEL BOULETTE

Replying to "An End to Alimony Would be Good for Women" by Emma Johnson on Forbes.com