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How the GOP Could Maybe WIN NOVA – Divorce Law Reform!

Another 1989 platform item for Sanders for Delegate, besides cut the car tax, substantially abolish parole and reform sovereign immunity, was divorce law reform.

I described the divorce law as a “gigantic wheel” that rolls over the economically challenged partner and also children, too.  (The young women cheered loudly for the single hopeful at the debate!)

Rush to 2016/17 – the GOP has not won a statewide election since 2009.  OH for three in the 2013 statewide contests, the 2014 Senate race and twice for President (2012, 2016).  How to break the NOVA jinx?

Short of secession of the north from the Old Dominion, perhaps the GOP needs a new approach.

The Republican party is great at discussing the usual conservative issues but they are same-o-same-o for many voters.  I am just as pro-gun as they are, I am pro-life and education reform.  I also believe in reducing the size and cost of government.

BUT I think if a GOP hopeful for Governor, LG or AG would talk about the “gigantic wheel” of the divorce laws they might have a shot in NOVA.  Two issues come readily to mind:  Long separation periods for uncontested divorce and the abuse of fault to bar spousal support (alimony).

The uncontested divorce in Virginia can only be obtained after a one year separation.  Now, this rule is circumvented in part by immediate access to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts (another reason why I did not want to be considered for the juvenile court judgeship!) but the J&DR courts cannot give a divorce.  It is also circumvented in part by asking for a fault divorce from bed and board (an ancient type of legal separation) with permission to merge it into a divorce a vinculo matrimonii (from the bonds of marriage in you guess it – Latin) – an absolute divorce.

Now I am well aware of two things:  One the circumventions I cited above.  The other is the heartbreak and social/human costs of divorce.  Especially on kids.  I am the product of divorce.  (Maybe it’s why my views are so messed up!  🙂  ) Divorce does hurt children especially.  BUT, the law cannot hold people together.  It can only drag out the litigation and uncertainty for a longer period.  This favors the spouse/partner with the most resources to fight.  Usually I suspect this is the male.

We need to mitigate divorce in the USA and the only way to do it is a Holy Ghost revival.  To bad politicians can’t legislate revival – or maybe it is great the pols can’t mess up God’s work!

But the law can mitigate injustice.  We should consider reducing the separation period to 60 days and abolish fault as a basis for divorce.

Now fault could be a factor in the division of property and in spousal support (and it is) BUT it should not be a bar to spousal support.  (I do realize there is a hardship exception to the spousal support bar but it is very limited.)

I applaud the Supreme Court of Virginia’s efforts to make forms and procedures more available to pro se parties (parties without a lawyer) but we need substantial divorce law reform.

I would also consider abolishing the Division of Child Support Enforcement or substantially changing their work to help poor obligees to get their money and farming out via a private cause of action with a contingent fee being available to the lawyer.  Sic the lawyers loose on the bad guys or gals who owe child/spousal support.  Better to have a law that treats nonpayment like spouse abuse – a law I actually talked none other than (for some of my readers) Del. Robert G. “Bob” Marshall to introduce in his first term as delegate.  I actually spoke to a legislative subcommittee on this very bill – my first invasion of Richmond!  It was 1993 if I recall.  (Now yes I had a political agenda – to help guard Marshall against the odious charge that pro-lifers only care about children until the are born!  Did it work?  Well he won that election but I do not think exit polling will show that suburban women voted for Marshall.)

I also liked the recent bill Delegate Albo carried and carries again this year – to call visitation “parenting time”.   Might be a placebo but it is useful to remind parents that visitation time is in fact parenting time.  (Now I disagree with any inference of joint custody as that term can confuse as much as it empowers.  I cannot count the times the parents, one of whom was my client, got joint legal custody but one parent got primary physical custody!  That is really the same thing as sole custody to one parent.)

Maybe the GOP hopefuls this time might want to try out divorce law reform as they seek votes and support in Northern Virginia.  All you need is 40% in Fairfax and 50% in Prince William and Loudoun and the election is winnable.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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    Tom White Says:

    Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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