Home Again? Better Known as “Failure to Launch”

May 19, 2015

Is there “Child Support” for Adult Children Who Live at Home?

Graine Mediation is pleased to introduce Terri R. Adams, MSW, LCSW, BCD, as our guest blogger this week. Ms. Adams is in private practice in Fairfax, Virginia with the Fairfax Counseling Group. http://fairfaxcounselinggroup.com Ms. Adams has helped many parents of young adults to successfully achieve a stronger relationship with their young adult children and recapture their own future.

INTRODUCTION by Robin Graine, JD: Many parents come into divorce mediation with a particular “problem” on their hands which does not, necessarily, have a legal solution: “What are we going to do with our adult child, who is living in the family home, once we separate?” This is an issue not easily resolved by Virginia divorce lawyers in the family court system. Nothing in the law supports “child support” for adult children (unless that child is disabled in some way that disallows independence). However, it is clear to the parents who provide a roof over these “20-something’s” heads that they are expensive to maintain. The broad question is then: Should parents be providing full support, both financial and otherwise, for these adult children? It is a big question in the divorce context and in our culture as a whole.


failure-to-launch-509f70c708f73Have you seen the movie, “Failure to Launch”? Two desperate parents conspire and create a plan to entice their 35-year-old son to finally move out of the house. Hoping they can encourage him to become an upstanding citizen on his own two feet, they set him up with a lovely young woman, hoping that this will motivate him to become independent.

Does this seem familiar? Just when you had adjusted to being empty nesters, here comes your wayward offspring, home to roost. Maybe, your son or daughter went off to college and pursued partying rather than academics and is now home again. Maybe you experienced the joy of college graduation and with sincere anticipation allowed him or her to return to actively pursue a job hunt. But now, a year later, your young adult child is still with you, languishing, direction-less, unmotivated, enjoying all the comforts of home without contributing much to the domestic landscape. HELP!

So, let’s be real. What can you do? What are reasonable expectations? In the Washington, D.C. metro area, the cost of living is high, adding to a young person’s challenge in getting a job that can support him or her. And, that almost certainly won’t be in the style to which they were accustomed growing up. So, face it, home is better. And, frequently, it’s free. What could be better?

Whether the return to home was due to a slacking economy, a relationship bust up, poor employment prospects or college challenges, rectifying the situation begins at home. First, you need to know the scope of the issue. Can you determine what is going on? Is it avoidant behavior due to low self-esteem? Is it lack of drive? An inability to cope with stress? Drug use or alcohol abuse? Or, just a bad attitude? Once you can state the troublesome behaviors, you have something to work with.

Living at home, your young adult has responsibilities as part of the household. It is important to have clear, reasonable expectations that are communicated and that have natural consequences if they are not achieved. If needed, offer a coach who can be hired to help your young adult accomplish job goals, breaking each one down into manageable tasks (a resume, interview skills, etc). Regular family meetings can help set up the tasks to be achieved and the coach can handle the follow through with your son or daughter.

Young adults in their twenties should be creating a vision for their future, learning new skills, meeting new people, striking out on their own. Many of the young adults who return home do not have the drive or the vision. Instant gratification (think video games or smoking weed) trumps working on long-term goals and they avoid, relying on their parents to provide the basics. If there is a substance abuse issue, get help as soon as possible. Go to Al-Anon or engage a therapist to help you, if you are stuck. If you sense depression in your young adult, turn to the professionals. Based on research, the most successful treatment is psychotherapy combined with medication.

Ultimately, these “boomerang kids” need some extra support at home and beyond to develop their own desire for autonomy. Invite them to experience the world and utilize resources available to help launch them into a successful adulthood.

Terri R. Adams, MSW, LCSW, BCD is in private practice in Fairfax, Virginia. She has helped many parents of young adults to successfully achieve a stronger relationship with their young adult children and recapture their own future. http://fairfaxcounselinggroup.com/Fairfax_Counseling_Group/Welcome.html


COMMENTS by Robin Graine, JD:

“FAILURE TO LAUNCH” IN DIVORCE MEDIATION CONTEXT: Usually, in such a situation, the divorce mediator learns that only one, or sometimes neither, of the parents believes that the adult child actually needs parental caretaking. The mediator’s role, then, often moves into facilitating a plan of action for “launching” the adult child into independence. This is even more the case when the family home must be sold to accommodate the divorce. The divorce is often a catalyst for such action, which is not, if done with compassion, necessarily a bad thing for the adult child.

FUNDING THE MOVE TOWARD INDEPENDENCE: Unless the plan is to immediately “kick out” your “failure to thrive” adult child, helping to move him or her toward independence requires money. Decisions will need to be reached on the financial contributions of the parents toward the support of the adult child in terms of both amount of money and the period of time in which it will be paid. Adult children can be very expensive, too, if there are problems that need to be addressed prior to “launch”. This “funding” piece can get very complicated when there are other minor children in the home for whom an actual child support obligation is supposed to be used. Care needs to be taken in these situations to account for the needs of all members of the family.

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

What Your Divorce Lawyers Do Not Always Tell You: Alimony Requires Estimated Tax Payments

April 28, 2015

captureThe IRS Monitors Divorced Individuals’ Payments of Estimated Taxes.

The IRS rules are straightforward for divorced individuals who receive child support or alimony payments. Most recipients (women, predominantly) understand how these rules work. When Form 1040 time rolls around, they aren’t taxed on child support payments, provided their divorce decree specifically distinguishes these payments from alimony. But they do have to list alimony payments on their returns.

Unfortunately, year after year, many recipients belatedly learn the expensive way about another long-standing requirement. The IRS insists that they comply with strict regulations for making payments of their estimated income taxes. These constraints kick in when estimated taxes for the year in question exceed $1,000.

Alimony recipients usually must pay estimated taxes in four installments for each year. Here’s how the rules apply to hypothetical recipient we’ll call Charmaine. Her due dates are April 15, June 15 and Sept. 15 of the current year and Jan. 15 of the following year. However, the IRS allows Charmaine to skip January’s payment, provided she submits her return and pays her tax in full by Feb. 1 of the following year.

What Charmaine should do to avoid unnecessary payments. She needs to keep track of withholding for taxes on payments received by her as salaries, wages, bonuses and other types of compensation during the current year. Her tally is incomplete if she forgets to include an overpayment of taxes for the previous year that she elected to apply to her bill for the current year.

Penalties for underpayments. The law authorizes the IRS to assess stiff, nondeductible penalties should Charmaine fail to pay sufficient tax during the year through withholding or estimated payments or fail to pay required installments on time as they become due. Suppose she submits a final estimated payment that’s sufficient to wipe out any balance due when she submits her 1040 form. That cuts no ice with the IRS.

The agency allows atonement for shortfalls in payments by increasing withholding from paychecks. Assume the IRS could penalize Charmaine for insufficient estimated payments throughout the year. Will it refrain from assessing penalties for underpayments in the three previous quarters if Charmaine pays the shortfall through an increase in her last quarterly estimated payment? That won’t work. What works is when she makes up the shortfall by boosting withholding from wages (or from sources such as Social Security benefits, pensions, and money removed from IRAs and other kinds of tax-deferred retirement plans) towards the end of the year. Why? Because the IRS allocates Charmaine’s withholding equally over each of the four payment periods. Therefore, her increased withholding can retroactively lessen or eliminate penalties when a similar increase in an estimated payment mightn’t.

“Safe harbor” rules for sidestepping penalties. Another escape hatch for Charmaine is to qualify under one of the IRS-authorized “safe harbors” or exceptions. They excuse her from any penalties for underpayments of more than $1,000 for estimated or withheld taxes. (No penalties when her underpayments stay below $1,000.) To qualify, Charmaine has to satisfy a two-step requirement:

Step one: She makes payments by the due dates.

Step two: Her combined payments of estimated and withheld taxes equal at least 90 percent of the actual taxes she owes for the current year or 100 percent of the previous year’s total tax liability—whichever is the lesser figure.

The exception based on her prior year’s tax is available even if the amount due was zero, provided she filed a return that covered 12 months, as she ordinarily would.

As the prior-year exception uses a fixed number, it’s the easiest way for Charmaine and most other recipients to figure their payments and dodge underpayment penalties. To illustrate, her payments total $13,000 for the previous year and $13,000 for the current year. With those kinds of numbers, Charmaine’s home free, no matter how much she owes when she files for the current year.

The agency applies stricter rules when her adjusted gross income (the amount on the last line of page one of Form 1040) exceeds $150,000 ($75,000 for married persons who file separate returns). It permits Charmaine to use the 100-percent escape hatch only if her payments equal 90 percent of the current year’s tax liability or 110 percent of the previous year’s total tax—again, whichever is less.

Exception for “annualized” payments. The IRS authorizes another exception when Charmaine pays ninety percent of the current year’s total tax, figured by “annualizing” income actually received by the end of the quarter in question.

The annualizing exception helps Charmaine when her income from alimony and other sources unexpectedly increases or fluctuates throughout the year. But the calculation is complicated.

Free help from the IRS. More detailed information is in Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, available at irs.gov or call 800-TAX-FORM.


Julian Block writes and practices law in Larchmont, N.Y. and was formerly with the IRS as a special agent (criminal investigator) and an attorney. He is frequently quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, and has been cited as: “a leading tax professional” (New York Times); “an accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal); and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning Magazine). This article is excerpted from “Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce,” available as a Kindle at Amazon.com and as a print copy at julianblocktaxexpert.com. Law professor James E. Maule, a professor at Villanova University School of Law and Graduate Tax Program, praised the book as “An easy-to-read and well-organized explanation of the tax rules.” The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers says it is “A terrific reference.”

Why Adult ADHD is Bad For Marriage (And What You Can Do About It)

March 3, 2015

Attention Deficit [Hyperactivity] Disorder—ADD and ADHD—is an issue that affects people of all ages, not just school-aged children. When it is undiagnosed in an adult, it can lead to relationship and marital strife. Often, an undiagnosed adult will seem flakey, unreliable, and forgetful, causing the non-ADHD partner to slowly build resentment toward the other, and become the “nagging” presence in a relationship.adult_compressed

“Chronic distraction is one of the hallmarks of ADHD, and it results in numerous behaviors that are just plain bad for your relationship: not paying attention to your partner; not focusing on chores long enough to get them done; not remembering things you committed to or that are important to the couple, and more. The result is that the ADHD partner who is not actively managing ADHD symptoms is an unreliable mate,”[1] Melissa Orlov writes in her blog series about adult ADHD for Psychology Today. Orlov is an expert in the field, having released two books on the subject: The ADHD Effect on Marriage” and “The Couple’s Guide to Thriving With ADHD.”

            Orlov explains why it can take so long for these issues to creep up in a relationship. In the beginning of a relationship, both partners are being bombarded internally by dopamine, which increases one’s ability to hyper-focus on the other person. Those dopamine levels are the source of the infatuation phase of a relationship. “But the raised levels of dopamine wear off,” she writes, “Often somewhere around 20-24 months into the relationship, leaving the ADHD partner with the lower-than-normal levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that typify ADHD.”

This sudden drop in dopamine can make the non-ADHD partner feel like the other person has changed into someone who is inattentive and uncaring. This can often spell disaster for the relationship.

“As long as the ADHD remains untreated or undertreated, these patterns can leave both partners unhappy, lonely, and feeling overwhelmed by their relationship,” Orlov writes. However, if a diagnosis is sought, both partners can better understand the cause of their relationship turmoil. The person with ADHD can manage it with medication and other coping mechanisms suggested by a doctor, and the non-ADHD partner can grow to understand that the behaviors they once saw as proof of indifference are actually symptoms of a manageable mental health issue.

Naturally, the mere diagnosis of ADHD will not cure a relationship of issues; it is not a magic fix. Depending on the state of the relationship, marriage counseling can be helpful in unpacking any problems that have built up. The non-ADHD partner may need help in letting go of resentments against the other. Orlov suggests moving forward after a diagnosis of ADHD using these steps:

  1. Diagnosis and treatment
  2. Accepting that ADHD has a huge impact in your relationship, and
  3. Learning (and implementing!) specific tactics that work for couples with ADHD[2]

Adult ADHD does not need to be a divorce sentence for a relationship. There are plenty of ways to cope and work with the other person, if both are willing to put in the time and effort. If any of this sounds just a bit too familiar, please take the time to get tested (or encourage your partner to be tested) for ADHD. It may not be your—or their—fault after all. Ignoring the issue, however, would be.

Posted by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/may-i-have-your-attention/201010/adhd-isn-t-just-kids-adults-feel-big-impact-in-marriage

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/may-i-have-your-attention/201309/adhd-doesnt-cause-divorce-denial-does


Divorce and Your ADD/ADHD Child

February 24, 2015

ADHD_classroomIf you are in the midst of a separation or a divorce, and have a child with diagnosed ADD or ADHD, there are things you can do to make the transition easier for him or her.

First, recognize that your child especially needs structure and order to best perform. As you go through your separation or divorce, it may feel like life has been tipped upside-down to your child. They may be spending time in two households, instead of one. Their daily routine may be interrupted and changed. It may feel harder for them to know what their schedule is on any given day.

Because of this, separating parents should be actively focused on effective co-parenting. Make and enforce similar schedules, so that your child has consistency. Psychologist Judith Glasser, Ph.D., suggests imposing similar bedtimes and amount of screen time allowed.[1] Consider setting up a shared Google Calendar account, so that your child’s schedule will be in one centralized location.

Second, be mindful of the amount of conflict your child is exposed to. While this is good general advice during a divorce, conflict is especially disruptive to a child with ADD/ADHD. This kind of disruption can actually exacerbate the symptoms of their condition.

Psychiatrist Mark Banschick, M.D., describes this in his article for PsychologyToday.com. “Children with ADHD have trouble regulating their emotional responses and the turmoil of a divorce may lead to volatility.”[2] That means your child, whose symptoms were otherwise being managed effectively, may now be acting out more than ever. A good way to mitigate the effects is by considering mediation over litigation. Studies have pointed to the idea that divorce mediation reduces conflict, while litigation increases it.[3]

Third, recognize that your attention may be diverted at times by your divorce, and you will need help. Reach out at the beginning of the process instead of waiting until you feel you’re underwater and you don’t have time to help your child manage his or her ADD/ADHD. This may mean more than just asking friends and family for help. Consider speaking to parenting or family counselors who can help you with your child’s specific needs.

And finally, keep your child’s special needs in mind when drafting your financial agreement. Again, Judith Glasser: “The cost of specialized services for children with ADHD should be considered as parents make decisions concerning child support and spousal support. Children with ADHD may need specialized services such as psychiatric care, individual, group and family psychotherapy, tutoring, coaching and private school. These are expensive and need to be considered in the financial agreement.”

These are good general guidelines for helping your child with ADD/ADHD cope with your divorce. However, every family is different. It is up to you to be proactive and find the help that is right for your situation.

Posted by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

[1] http://www.childandfamilymentalhealth.com/adhd/adhd-and-divorce/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201304/adhd10-helpful-tips

[3] Robert Emery, Ph.D. The Truth About Children and Divorce, 2006

How Does Divorce and Shared Custody Impact Children?

January 13, 2015

Just like all major life events, divorce and shared (not necessarily 50/50) custody affects children differently. The impact depends on the child’s emotional make-up, resiliency, life experiences (age-effected) and how the people around them react to and comfort them through what is almost always a very saddening experience (even when the marriage was terrible).

There is no doubt that divorce, and splitting up a child’s custody, will have a great effect on that child in many ways. Thankfully, however, these effects are not always bad.  For example, if the marriage was horrible (abusive in any of the myriad ways abuse is manifested), divorce can sometimes have a positive impact on children — it frees them from the chronic and, often, debilitating stress that comes from living in a volatile home-life situation. However, if the marriage was only bad news between the parents — but the children were thriving despite the parents’ irreconcilable differences and, perhaps, lovelessness — there will certainly be a negative impact on the children.

“There is no doubt that divorce, and splitting up a child’s custody, will have a great effect on that child in many ways. Thankfully, however, these effects are not always bad.”

I believe, however, that good co-parenting relationships between parties, who share the custodial caretaking of their children, can counter-balance the negative impacts of divorce.



(1) Children of divorce will have a greater chance (by about 15%) of getting divorced themselves.  Of course, whenever I see this statistic, I have to wonder:  “Do children who are raised in a loveless marriage have a 15% greater chance of having such a love-desolate marriage themselves?”  Or, “Do children who are raised in a family where the parents disrespect one another’s every decision also grow up to have similarly disrespectful relationships with their spouses?”

(2) Children of divorce are at risk of becoming manipulative (one parent against the other) if there is a lot of child-driven opinion (not always bad; not always good) with regard to custody arrangements.

(3) Children of divorce who have focus issues (e.g. ADD, ADHD) and other special needs (e.g. autistic spectrum disorders, down syndrome, learning disabilities, processing disorders, anxiety disorders) may have those problems exacerbated by living in two separate homes. Of course, though these children’s progress in therapeutic intervention may initially slow down, a divorce sometimes actually helps these children develop higher-level coping and life skills in the long run.

(4) Children of divorce may excessively worry about their parents if either one of them does not “heal” well and/or there are financial problems after the divorce.  These types of “grown-up” worries are often overwhelming for children and can affect them academically and, certainly, emotionally.

(5) Children of divorce may feel alienated by a parent when he or she begins dating . . . and step-siblings (or “step-significant-other-children”) come into the picture.  The addition of significant others and their “kin” always presents big, emotionally-charged challenges for families. Feeling neglected and losing ground in esteem-building is what we worry about most in these types of situations.

(6) Children may become delayed/damaged in their ability to form trusting relationships with other people and, as they get older, their desire to form romantic partnerships may be stymied.

I always counsel parents, however, in my Divorce Mediation Practice www.grainemediation.com that the negative impacts of divorce can often be counter-balanced by really great parenting. For example:


(1) The historically “less involved parent” often steps up his or her involvement with the children.  As long as the kids are thriving, most experts agree that having both parents involved in a child’s life is best.  Why?  Because two parents in a child’s life creates a better opportunity for that child to develop his or her bonding and connectedness/attachment skills (yes, they are skills).  These skills form the basis from which all human beings learn to be social and develop the ability to have meaningful and loving relationships with other human beings.

Sometimes the reason for the increased involvement is less than noble-sounding (e.g. attorney advice, wanting to “show” the other parent that he/she actually cares, etc). What matters, however, is not the initial motivating factor that started the involvement in the first place. What matters is that both parents are positively involved in their child’s life and that both parents show that child how much they unconditionally love him or her.  Motivation is not always the key to determining whether a behavior is helpful or not — sometimes the act itself is what is most important and sometimes, believe it or not, the “good” motivation ends up following the act.  (Kind of like “smile and you might even end up feeling happy”.)

(2) Children can learn excellent conflict resolution skills from their divorced parents. Even if the parents “failed” at marriage, they can do a great job co-parenting the kids, which will, no question about it, require high level conflict resolution skills.  Remember: Your kids are watching everything that you do!

(3) Children tend to have more opportunity for one-on-one time with their parents post-divorce.  Most children love this special time with their mom or dad — as long as that parent actually pays attention to them (although not necessarily all 24 hours of the day).  Teens, however, may not be so thrilled with so much attention (but maybe they will appreciate it when they are older!).

(4) Parents have the opportunity for refreshing breaks from the hard work of parenting when the children are with the other parent.

(5) There is a greater tendency for both parents to be involved in the day-in-day-out academic, social, extracurricular, and emotional lives of their children (versus just one parent being the “CEO and COO of Kids” as is often the case in intact marriage situations).

(6) In good co-parenting situations, children have the opportunity to absorb the fact that big changes, though scary, are not always bad.  Children of divorce know that life is full of surprises. Those children whose parents do a good job at co-parenting (which often means that they do not prolong the bad feelings brought about with the divorce) can also absorb and learn through their parent’s role modeling that the ability to handle change and an undesired/unplanned rearrangement of one’s life is what makes, in many ways, for a successful and happy life!

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Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

What is a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) in a Virginia Divorce?

December 9, 2014

marital-settlement-agreementTerms of a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA)

A Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) is a contract between a married couple that sets out the terms of how they will move forward in their lives, during separation and divorce, in the following areas:

  • Parenting Arrangements (also known as Custody & Visitation) – Sets forth the schedule of custodial care. This section also sets forth how child-related responsibilities will be shared. This includes both the decision-making and day-to-day care for the children.
  • Child Support – Sets forth the presumed statutory guideline monthly award (dollar amount) and the actual amount to be paid (which may differ, somewhat, from the presumed guideline amount). This section also clarifies how certain child-related expenses, over and above the monthly child support award, will be covered, e.g. out-of-pocket medical expenses, extracurricular activities, work-related childcare (daycare, nanny, babysitter), camps, tutoring and private school. Some parties also choose to set forth how college tuition and related expenses will be shared between the parties once the child support obligation ends (usually at high school graduation or 18 years of age, whichever comes later).
  • Spousal Support (aka Alimony) – Sets forth the dollar amount of spousal support to be paid (if any) and the duration for which it must be paid. This section also sets forth whether or not spousal support will be modifiable or non modifiable and, in some instances, the specifics of that modifiability. This section also sets forth, where necessary, waivers of the right to petition a court for spousal support at the time of divorce and/or in the future. The Spousal Support section of a PSA must include certain statutory language in order to be acceptable to the IRS. Because the payment of spousal support includes many important tax implications, depending on how the PSA is written, close scrutiny must be paid to this language.
  • Property & Debt Distribution – Sets forth the division and distribution of all marital property. Also clarifies property that has been determined by the parties to be separate (e.g. non-marital) and, as is usually the case, non-divisible. This section also clarifies how the parties’ debts will be handled during separation and post-divorce. In a divorce, the term “property” includes all assets: real estate, automobiles, bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks & bonds, businesses, antiques & collectibles, furniture, artwork, tools, etc. In Virginia, this is often referred to as the “E.D. Section”, which is short for “equitable distribution of property and debt”.

Other Key Components of a Property Settlement Agreement

Property Settlement Agreements in Virginia (and elsewhere) also include other very important information, such as:

  • Date of Separation – the date upon which the parties agree they began living “separate and apart”[1] (which may or may not be the date that one of the parties moved out of the marital residence);
  • No Fault Divorce – a clause that forbids either party to ever proceed with a divorce on contested grounds (e.g. desertion/abandonment, adultery, cruelty);
  • Waiver of Right to Discovery – a clarification (if appropriate) that the parties waived their right to discovery (the court-supervised process of gathering documents and information from “the other side” which is standard in most litigated divorces);
  • Taxes – a predetermination of how certain tax benefits and burdens will be divided between the parties (where appropriate, necessary and permitted by the IRS). Such items include: the dependency exemption for children, the child and dependent care credit, future filing status decisions while still married (e.g. married filing separately, married filing jointly), mortgage interest & real estate tax deductions, and future income tax refunds and liabilities.

There is No Such Thing as “Legal Separation” in Virginia – Property Settlement Agreements Resolve Some of the Resulting Confusion & Risk

In Virginia, there is no such as thing as “legal separation”. The closest that parties can come to legal separation is to actually live separate and apart (see footnote 1) and be in possession of a signed and notarized PSA.

Most attorneys advise their clients to never move out of the marital residence without the benefit of a PSA. The reason for this is two-fold:

  1. Risk – Setting Up Fault Ground of Desertion/Abandonment – Without a signed and notarized PSA, which clearly states that neither party is permitted to file a divorce on fault grounds, the party who leaves the marital residence is at risk of the other party proceeding with a divorce on the fault ground of desertion/abandonment. If the other party prevails, this could affect a judge’s ruling with regard to property and debt distribution. This risk is somewhat “academic”, however, according to many divorce professionals in the Northern Virginia Area, as long as the person who physically moves out of the marital residence continues to provide financial support “back home”. Also, and perhaps most concerning, fault-based divorces set in motion a defensive posture that ramps up the litigation and costs the parties dearly in terms of emotional strain and financial drain.
  2. Risk – Confusion in the Classification of Certain Property and Debt as Marital Property (divisible by a court) versus Separate Property (not divisible in court) – Virginia law states that all property and debt acquired post-separation is to be classified as separate property (non-marital, non-divisible by a court). It is usually best, therefore, for parties to clarify what they have, in terms of their property and debt, at the time of separation. To avoid often confusing, and sometimes very stressful situations later, parties are well-advised, once they have decided to separate, to determine, in detail, how and when their property and debt will be divided and distributed and what the values of their property, and balances on their debt instruments are, at the time of separation. It is also notable, however, that even though judges are required to classify post-separation assets and debts as separate (non-divisible) property, parties may choose to classify some or all of that post-separation property and debt as divisible marital property (as is the law in many other jurisdictions).

Property Settlement Agreements are Binding Contracts

            Once parties sign a PSA, they have entered into a binding contract that is not renegotiated at the time of divorce. The key agreements and pertinent sections of the PSA are incorporated into the Final Order of Divorce (e.g. the custodial care arrangements for the children, the amount of child support and spousal support to be paid, and the specifics of the division and distribution of property and debt). The signed and notarized PSA is filed with court, along with several other divorce documents (including the Final Order of Divorce, aka Divorce Decree). In essence, parties who have a signed PSA, during their period of separation, are operating under a contract; once those same parties are divorced, they are operating under both a contract and a court order (the Final Order of Divorce).

It is notable, however, that all matters related to children (custody, child support), are always modifiable if there is a material change in circumstances. Parties are not permitted to negotiate away this right.

Can a Property Settlement Agreement Ever Be Declared Invalid?

            Property Settlement Agreements, though usually upheld in court, may be declared void (i.e. “invalid”) and, therefore, unenforceable, under the same circumstances as are other contracts. Specifically:

  • No Capacity to Form a Contract – one or both parties lacked the capacity to form a contract (e.g. serious mental impairment);
  • Unconscionability – the contract is extremely unfair;
  • Too Much Pressure – one or both of the parties signed the contract under duress, as a result of coercion, and/or as a result of undue influence;
  • Factual Mistakes – there was a mutual mistake of fact(s)(unless it really doesn’t matter);
  • Illegal – the contract contains a violation of law or public policy; and/or
  • No Full Disclosure – there was a failure to provide all relevant factsthat would allow for informed decision-making with regard to the settlement terms (in a PSA, that usually means “financial facts“).

(Va. Code §8.01-581.26)

The last area is usually of the biggest concern in a Property Settlement Agreement – especially one that is signed without the benefit of formal discovery (the attorney-led and formalized process of collecting and reviewing documents and other information relevant to the case).  If it is determined that essential financial information, which would be necessary for one or both of the parties to make informed settlement decisions, was purposefully withheld, the Property Settlement Agreement will almost certainly be void (no good).

95% of Divorce Cases Settle Without Trial. Why Not Start With Settlement in Mind?

            The vast majority of cases — 95% being the most quoted statistic – never go to trial. That means that, after all the litigation strategy, motions, depositions, discovery, and very expensive legal wrangling, almost all divorcing couples end up settling their case without a trial.

Therefore, when all is said and done, if you are considering a divorce, or are in the process of getting a divorce, you might as well start with a settlement mentality and focus on reaching solutions to your divorce disputes that you both can live with before you engage in expensive and time-consuming litigation.

            The final result of your mutually agreeable solutions to your divorce-related issues will be in the form of an enforceable Property Settlement Agreement which, if written by a qualified lawyer-mediator, will be clear, enforceable, detailed, written in neutral language, and contain a minimum of “legalese”.

If you have any questions about what goes into drafting a Property Settlement Agreement and how Graine Mediation goes about settling divorce cases, call Robin Graine at 571-220-1998.

[1] In Virginia, parties with minor children must live “separate and apart”, without cohabitation (no marital relations) and without interruption, for 12 months before they are permitted to file for divorce. Va. Code §20-91. Without minor children, parties are permitted to get a divorce after only 6 months of separation as long as they have a signed Property Settlement Agreement. The term “separate and apart” is also interpreted, in Virginia, to mean that at least one of the parties intends that the separation be permanent. There is no actual law stating that the parties must live under separate roofs (though that is preferred by the Courts). This lack of clarity is bad enough on its own; but it compounded by the fact that Virginia law specifies that all property and debt acquired post-separation is separate property (aka non-marital and, as a result, is not divisible by a court).

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

How Divorce Affects Adolescent Children

November 18, 2014

Getting divorced is difficult. Getting divorced when you have teenagers… Well, it can feel impossible. Luckily, a lot of very smart people have said a lot of incredibly useful things to help you navigate these tricky situations. A must-read is by Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist and writer, entitled “Surviving Your (Child’s) Adolescence.”unhappy teen

He starts by describing the difference between the way a child who is under 9-years-old and a child who is 9 or older reacts to the divorce of their parents. While the younger child will tend to cling and show anxiety, the older child begins manifesting signs of independence and pulling away. Since it is already typical for an adolescent to test their independence, this confluence can be destructive, rather than developmentally beneficial for the child.

Pickhardt runs down the ways in which a divorce can affect the adolescent. They can put off committing to their own relationships, or keep things overly casual, in order to forego the same pain they saw in their parents’ relationship. It can make them uncertain about their own feelings toward a romantic partner, if their new frame of reference becomes, “Well, I thought my parents loved each other, but now I’m not sure.”

To avoid these mires and pitfalls, Pickhardt suggests what he calls “The Ten Articles of Consideration;” a list of ways that parents can interact positively with their adolescent children and assure them of their continued love, devotion, and foster trust. I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, especially if these problems sound all too familiar. As always, Fairfax Divorce Blog will be here to continue giving our own advice and pointing out helpful articles whenever we find them!

Posted by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


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