Divorce in the Military

Divorce in the Military

Divorce in the Military
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

Divorce laws vary from state to state, and are generally controlled by the statutes of the State where the parties last cohabitated as husband and wife. But, what if you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces? Do the same rules apply?

When it comes to military divorces, special rules and requirements apply to U.S. service members and their spouses. Divorce in that situation can be controlled by both State and Federal statutes.

When serving active duty, the service member is generally protected from divorce proceedings under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) that states that a service member cannot either be sued for or begin divorce proceedings while they are on active duty or for 60 days following active duty (at the court’s discretion). In addition under SCRA, a court can delay divorce proceedings during the time the service member is on active duty or for up to 60 days afterward.

Three Options of Where to File for Military Divorce

Prior to a divorce being granted, the court in which the case is filed must have both personal jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter jurisdiction over the specific area of the law involved (e.g., military courts do not hear divorce cases, and state courts do not hear military cases). “Jurisdiction” over the parties generally (or their last marital residence) will determine which court has the authority to make decisions regarding the divorce. For civilians, it is most often where they live; their state of legal residence. With military divorce, because a member of the U.S. Armed Forces can designate residency in state where they do not reside full-time while in active duty, determinations of “jurisdiction” often are controlled by where the spouse filing for the divorce resides, particularly if that is where the parties last cohabitated together as husband and wife. In some instances, where the real estate the parties own or where the children are being raised plays a significant role as well in deciding which court has proper “jurisdiction” over the case. Hence it is recommended to obtain a family law/divorce attorney to properly guide you on which state is proper or best to file in for the divorce.

For military members and spouses, divorce can be filed by one of three choices:

1. In the state where the military member is a legal resident;
2. In the place where legal residence of the spouse is established, even if that service member is stationed elsewhere;
3. In the state where the military member is currently stationed, whether or not they are a legal resident of that state.

Division of Military Pensions and Benefits

In the event of divorce, a military pension is subject to division between spouses and under the federal statute known as the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA). Depending on the state, it can be treated as sole or community property, and divided between or awarded to a spouse based on that state’s specific laws governing divorce. The USFSPA guides the court on how best to address issues like military pension, child support and spousal support.

Military spouses are also subject to the “ten year rule,” which allows a former spouse to receive direct deposit payment of his or her portion of the former service member spouse’s military retirement from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) so long as there was ten years of marriage that overlapped with ten years of military service.

As an example, if a couple were married for 15 years, with the military member serving for 8 of those years, the spouse would not be eligible for direct payment through DFAS, and s/he would then have to receive those amounts on a monthly basis from the military member spouse until paid in full. However, if a couple were married for 15 years and the military member served for 12 of those years, all payments would be by direct deposit from DFAS to the former spouse would be made by DFAS. A spouse cannot collect his/her portion of the retirement pay until such time as the retiree applies for it; therefore, some people put a specific time frame as to when to begin claiming/receiving benefits into their divorce settlement.

The maximum amount a spouse can receive of the military retirement income is 50%. If the payment also includes child support, the maximum combined amount deducted from the disposable retirement pay cannot exceed 65%. Both the military member and the spouse should be aware of the full value of the pension when settling a divorce.

Spouses of former military service members may also receive full medical, commissary and exchange privileges (full base privileges) in addition to pension benefits (as long as they don’t remarry) under the following conditions, sometimes called the 20/20/20 rule:

• The marriage lasted 20 years or more;
• The service member has 20 or more years of creditable service toward retirement pay; and
• There was a 20-year overlap of marriage and military service.

In addition, in cases of divorce, the ex-spouse of a military member is no longer a beneficiary of the Survivor Benefit Plan, as they were while married. This benefit must be addressed in the divorce settlement.

Determination of Alimony and Child Support

The military has specific rules for determining spousal and child support and may also require the payor-spouse to maintain life insurance covering these payments for a specified period. A divorced spouse will no longer qualify to take advantage of on-post military housing and will need to find housing elsewhere.

The court may enforce these obligations by:
• Court-order
• Garnishment
• Voluntary or Involuntary Allotment

Contact a Family Law Attorney Familiar with Military Divorces

Since there are special rules and regulations regarding a military divorce, it is best to seek legal advice before taking action. At the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi would be glad to provide representation in seeking your divorce or assist you with issues of child or spousal support. Located near INOVA Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg (Lansdowne), Virginia, we serve clients throughout Northern Virginia. Please contact us today.

Dealing with a Family Member’s Arrest

Dealing with a Family Member’s Arrest

Dealing with a Family Member’s Arrest
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

You’ve received that phone call where the loved one on the other end of the line says, “I’ve been arrested.” Now what do you do?

Remain Calm

The first recommendation is to remain calm. Your loved one needs your strength now, so help them calm down as well. Ask them to be respectful with the authorities but to let them know that they should invoke the right to remain silent and that family is going to retain an attorney for them. Assure them that you will work on their behalf. It is not the time for blaming, shaming, yelling or escalating the situation in any way. If you were present at the arrest, you yourself must be respectful to the police office but are not required to divulge any information to them or answer questions.

Learn the Details

Find out at which jail your loved one is being detained, and on what charge. Give this information to an attorney that you have hired to represent your family in this matter. Phone calls are recorded at the adult detention centers in Virginia if you loved one is calling you on their pay phone system, so absolutely nothing should be said by either of you about the facts surrounding the case; or anything else that could be incriminating to you or your loved one. Address only the matter or arranging for legal counsel and how your loved one is holding up.

You may or may not want to contact other loved ones. If you do, inquire as to their resources that may be able to help.

Know Your Rights and Those of the Police

A loved one who is arrested has: (1) the right to remain silent; and/or (2) the right to speak to an attorney. But he or she must tell the police (invoke) that they are exercising those rights if they intend to have them honored. If they start talking about the case, they may waive those rights simply by choosing to do so—even after first invoking them. No questions should be answered without the attorney present, regardless of whether the alleged crime is or is not a serious one. They should know that in questioning, the interview is either recorded, or the arrested party may be asked to sign a statement confirming that the interview record is accurate.

The police will most likely photograph the arrested person and take fingerprints. They may also legally take a DNA sample or swabs of the skin on the arms and hands. If they want urine, blood or dental impressions, it requires the permission of the person, unless the arrest is related to driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

An arrested person can be held for up to 24 hours as a suspect or “person of interest.” After that time, they must be charged with a crime or released, unless a request for an extended incarceration is requested by authorities for 36 to 96 hours if the person is suspected in a serious crime. Those involved in acts of terrorism can be held without charge up to 14 days if arrested under the Terrorism Act.

After questioning, the police may release your relative either without charge or on bail (secured or unsecured by a bond). If bail is not granted, the person may have to remain in police custody until the family can obtain an attorney to file a motion with the court to have a bail amount set by a judge.

At an arraignment hearing, charges will be read and the bond amount and any conditions, such as the bond amount, will be set. If bail is met, the arrestee will be asked to sign a ”signature bond” that states that he or she recognizes his or her obligation to appear in court. You may help them pay the bail.

The information in this blog post pertains mostly to adults who are arrested. Some different practices may come into play with minor children. For example, the child may have the right to an attorney present during questioning, but not a parent. An experienced family law attorney who has also handled criminal law matters can help you ensure your loved one’s rights are protected.

Contact Your Attorney

Make contact with your attorney as soon as possible. Arrange for an attorney to help you with the immediate issues including representation during questioning and at the arraignment hearing. You attorney will also advise you as to the steps you need to take.

Do not sign a long-term agreement with an attorney until you know what the charges are and whether you will need their help long-term. Beware of lawyers who try to push you into an extended engagement immediately or want to rush you to a plea bargain.

Beware also of friends and family who try to give you legal advice. Stick to the licensed attorney’s recommendations. A criminal defense attorney, unlike a friend or family member, is the only one who can offer attorney-client protection for the statements made by the arrested person, and the only one who cannot be called to testify against the client as to what the client said about the events leading to his or her arrest. A family member is always open to being subpoenaed to disclose what the loved one shared. Thus, the reason to tell them nothing – even to you – and to save all discussions about their case for the attorney.

Gather Funds

You will need money to post bail or to pay attorney fees, so take action to gather the necessary funds. Criminal defense attorneys typically charge up-front deposits, and sometimes a flat fee, depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Don’t Feel Guilty

People from any family can get arrested, so don’t get caught up in feelings of guilt. Deal with the shock and begin the process of rectifying the situation as best you can. And be aware that others, including family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc., may act in an accusatory way or say things that might be hurtful upon hearing of the arrest. Don’t let them incite and distract you; stick to your plan and follow the legal advice of your attorney.

Contact the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor

Attorney Patricia E. Tichenor spent a number of years handling criminal cases while practicing family law. The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. is often called upon to help with highly-emotional issues such as family member arrests, and can provide legal advice and representation in a caring and competent manner to families in Northern Virginia. If your loved one has been arrested, contact attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi today.

Protective Orders for Spouses or Children in Virginia

Protective Orders for Spouses or Children in Virginia

Protective Orders for Spouses or Children in Virginia
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

A protective, or restraining, order is a court-issued legal document designed to protect the petitioner from of violence, abuse and threats for a fixed period of time. It is designed to protect the safety and health of any person who is placed in fear or threat of bodily injury.

3 Types of Family Abuse Protective Orders in Virginia

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are three types of protective orders aimed at protecting spouses or children, including:
Emergency Protective Order
This type of protective order is requested in emergency situations and therefore can be issued by any court, Juvenile or Domestic Relations judge, or magistrate at any time of the day or night. It can also be requested by a law enforcement officer without notifying the alleged abuser. Expires at the end of the third day after issuance or the next day court is in session (whichever is later).
Preliminary Protective Order
This type of protective order is issued by a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court when the petitioner shows proof that they are in immediate danger from the alleged abuser, who does not need to be notified prior to issuing the protective order. The petitioner must either provide an affidavit or testify under oath, and the order expires 15 days following the day it was issued or until a full hearing.
Full Protective Order
This type of protective order is issued following a full hearing, when the alleged abuser is given the chance to be heard in court. Its duration can last up to two years.

When protection is first issued, it is only temporary, and is called a PPO, or Preliminary Protection Order. It will include a date indicating when you must return to court, generally in about 15 days, at which time the judge will determine if a Full Protective Order is required. Both the petitioner and the abuser are asked to be present.

What a Restraining Order Can Do

A restraining order can:
• Order the abuser to cease contact with you or other people in your family, in person, by telephone, at home or work, or anywhere requested within the order.
• Demand that the abuser vacate the shared home
• Grant custody of minor children
• Order child support and spousal support
• Order payment for costs resulting from abuse, such as household bills, medical treatment, loss of earnings, etc.
• Order professional counseling for the abuser

How a Protective Order Can Help Victims of Family Abuse

All types of protective orders in Virginia can prohibit further abuse, prohibit any contact by the defendant with the victims of abuse, and remove the defendant from the home in which the victims live (without affecting the property’s title).

Preliminary and full protective orders can also grant the victims the sole use of a motor vehicle either owned by the victims or by both the petitioner and defendant (without affecting the vehicle’s title), as well as order the defendant to provide housing for the victims.

Do Not Hesitate to File a Protective Order

If you or your children are threatened, or if a member of your family or household harms you in any way, do not hesitate to file a petition against them in your local Juvenile and Domestic Division. However, as this legal document can only protect you if the abuser respects it, call 911 immediately if you feel you are in any type of danger.

Every day the media is flooded with another instance of family-related violence. Don’t let the next story be yours.

Contact Your Family Law Attorney

For information or any advice regarding family abuse or protective orders in Virginia, contact attorneys Patricia Tichenor and Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. We can advise you on the best methods to keep yourself and your children safe, and on the next steps to take to ensure ongoing protection. Contact us today.

Legally Changing Your Name in Virginia

Legally Changing Your Name in Virginia

Legally Changing Your Name in Virginia
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

There are a number of reasons people change their name: marriage, divorce, adoption, escaping domestic violence, privacy/anonymity, difficulty in spelling, ethnicity, or for no other reason than they choose another. Wanting to change your name, and legally doing so, involves—no surprise—paperwork and fees.

Getting Married or Divorced
Virginia allows people to change their last name (surname) when applying for a state marriage license. Hyphenated names are also allowed. After the marriage, the valid marriage license serves as proof of name change.

In a divorce, name change can be accomplished as part of the regular divorce process. Under Virginia law, a divorce court can restore a former last name with the final divorce decree, when asked to do so. If the name being sought is not a restoration of a spouse’s former name, they can file a separate Petition for Name Change in Virginia, as provided by a statutory law separation from Virginia’s divorce statutes, and obtain a new name. The latter option may be favored in situations of domestic violence where the spouse does not want the soon-to-be ex-spouse to know the new name sought nor obtain their endorsement (or that of their attorney) on the Order of Name Change.

Petitioning a Name Change
According to Virginia Code, you may not seek a name change for fraudulent purposes, like to avoid debt or defraud creditors, or if the new name will infringe on the rights of others.

You must submit your name change to the Circuit Court in the county where you live, and must have lived in Virginia and the city or county of application for at least the past six months. Name change documents include a notarized Petition and Order that are presented to the Court. If the Judge grants your Order requesting a name change, you receive a certified copy of the Order.

Changing the Name of a Child or Ward
The Court looks at the best interest of the child when a name change is requested, and both parents (if living and not otherwise having had their legal rights terminated) must consent to the name change of a child or ward. If a parent’s location is unknown, notice through a newspaper publication, called an Order of Publication, may be used as a valid substitute for obtaining consent. If the parents fail to appear at the hearing date and time noticed in the newspaper, the Court will grant the name change so long as it finds the change to be in the child’s or ward’s best interests.

Avoid Mistakes in Name Change Documents
The Circuit Courts of Virginia and the Virginia Supreme Court website provide basic Forms that a person may use to accomplish a Name Change. However, filling out your name change forms correctly is of paramount importance. There is a format to follow, and all previous name changes (including any from marriage) must be included. Both the Petition and the Order must be signed by the petitioner and the Petition must be notarized. Any mistakes in information or formatting will delay your name change and require submission of new documents.

Places to Notify of Your New Name
When you’ve made a name change, you will want to notify the following: driver’s license, social security administration, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Passport Office, and Voter Registration. In addition, you will need to update your information on bank accounts, insurance records, medical records, utilities, legal documents, wills, etc.

Do You Need an Attorney in Order to Change Your Name?
You don’t need a lawyer to legally change your name, however, you certainly are advised to consult one to ensure that your name change documents are prepared correctly and otherwise done legally. Many law offices, including the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, PLLC, offer such services at a flat fee (rather than an hourly fee rate).

Contact Your Family Law Attorney
To discuss the legalities of changing your name, contact the family law attorneys Patricia Tichenor and Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, PLLC. Contact us today.

Child Support & Enforcement in Virginia

Child Support & Enforcement in Virginia

Child Support & Enforcement in Virginia
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

From the perspective of a non-custodial parent paying child support, it often feels like a continuing injustice to be relegated to barely seeing his or her children full-time while carrying the financial burden of providing regular monthly support to the children until their age of majority. The child support order determines who will pay for a child’s basic support and medical care, and normally it is the non-custodial parent who must make the regularly-scheduled payments to the custodial parent.

In addition, if the non-custodial parent does not make the regularly-scheduled payments, the custodial parent has the right to file an enforcement action with the court, asking the judge to force the delinquent parent to make the payments. The failure to follow a child-support order can also result in the non-custodial parent being held in contempt of court and fined or sent to jail, with possible criminal charges brought if the nonpayment extends.

Child Support Enforcement Methods
In Virginia, one method for enforcement of a child support order is provided though the Virginia Department of Social Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE), which can result in:
• The withholding the non-custodial parent’s income from his or her paycheck, social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment payments or veterans disability compensation
• The placing a lien(s) on the delinquent parent’s real estate or personal property
• The garnishment/seizure of the non-custodial parent’s tax refunds (state and federal)
• The suspension of the non-custodial parent’s driving license
• The denial of a passport
• The reporting of the delinquency, if a judgment is entered against the non-custodial parent, to credit bureaus
• The court’s entry of orders of contempt (civil or criminal), which can possibly lead to a jail sentence; and
• The use of a bench warrant for arrest, including extradition from another state if appropriate.

In Virginia, upon entry of a finding of contempt, interest will also added to any past-due payments at the rate of 6% per annum. Another method of enforcement is for the custodial parent to hire an attorney to immediately file for a hearing to determine if the non-custodial parent is in contempt, which can result in an award of the custodial parent’s legal fees to be paid by the non-custodial parent on top of the child support arrears already owed by the non-custodial parent.

If the issue goes before the judge and the court determines that the non-custodial parent was capable of paying, that parent can be held in contempt of court, with the above-listed penalties. In addition, this parent could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and face jail time.

If the non-custodial parent moves out of Virginia, the child support order can still be enforced through the Uniform Federal Family Support Act in any other U.S. state. For missing parents, the federal government utilizes a Federal Parent Locator Service.

Can’t Afford the Child Support Payments?
If the non-custodial parent is truly struggling, or unable, to make child support payments, he or she should contact an experienced family law attorney to determine what motions might be filed with the court to obtain a temporary reduction, suspension or modification of his or her current support payment, and to set a hearing to obtain a permanent order that may reduce monthly child support moving forward. If the non-custodial parent cannot afford to consult with or hire an attorney, he or she may file for a review with either DCSE or the court directly. If granted a modification, then any reduction (as mandated by Virginia statute) will be retroactive to the date of any court filing to seek modification.

Contact Your Family Law Attorney
If you have questions about Virginia’s child support laws, your local family attorney in Virginia, the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., is there to help. We are conveniently located near Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg, Virginia to serve clients throughout Northern Virginia. Please contact attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi for advice.

The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C.
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(703) 669-6700

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