Articles Posted in Virginia Supreme Court

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Husband filed a complaint seeking a divorce from Wife. The circuit court granted the divorce and equitably distributed Husband’s and Wife’s property and debt. Husband appealed the equitable distribution award because it classified the increase in value of Husband’s investment/brokerage account as marital property, despite the fact that Husband owned the account before the marriage and both Husband and Wife agreed the account was separate property. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Wife, the non-owning spouse, had the burden of proving that the substantial appreciation in the value of the account was proximately caused by Husband’s significant personal efforts during the marriage and was therefore marital property, and that Wife failed to carry her burden. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in determining that the non-owning spouse has the initial burden of proving that significant personal efforts or marital contribution caused a substantial increase in the value of separate property. Remanded. View "David v. David" on Justia Law

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Child was conceived in vitro using Father's sperm and Mother's egg. After Child was born, Father voluntarily signed an acknowledgment of paternity jointly with Mother pursuant to Va. Code 20-49.1(B)(2). The couple later separated, and Father filed a petition to determine parentage and establish custody and visitation, arguing that the acknowledgment of paternity created a final and binding parent-child legal status between Father and Child. Mother filed pleas in bar asserting that Father was barred from being Child's legal parent because he and Mother were never married and Child was conceived through assisted conception. The circuit court sustained the pleas in bar and dismissed the remainder of Father's petition seeking custody and visitation. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the assisted conception statute does not operate to divest individuals of the ability to establish parentage solely due to marital status under the circumstances presented in this case; (2) the assisted conception statute does not violate equal protection but, if not harmonized with another statute to allow unmarried fathers parentage of their children, would violate constitutional rights to due process; and (3) acknowledgments of paternity executed pursuant to section 20-49.1(B)(2) are enforceable. View "L.F. v. Breit" on Justia Law

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The U.S. district court certified questions of law to the Supreme Court concerning Virginia law. The questions arose out of a suit filed by John Wyatt, who sought monetary damages for the unauthorized adoption of his baby. Wyatt named as defendants the individuals and entities involved in the adoption and asserted numerous claims, including one for tortious interference with parental rights. Upon consideration of a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants, the district court denied the motion as to the claim for tortious interference with parental rights pending its request that the Supreme Court adjudicate whether Virginia recognizes such a cause of action. The Supreme Court (1) held Virginia recognizes tortious intereference with parental rights as a cause of action; and (2) referred the U.S. district court to the opinion for the elements constituting the tort.

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After Wife filed a complaint for divorce from Husband, the trial court conducted an equitable distribution hearing, pursuant to which it determined that, because Wife exercised some of the options with separate funds, the entirety of Wife's stock awards were her separate property. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court finding that the stock awards were Mary's separate property but for different reasons, holding that the stock awards were not marital property because they did not vest during the marriage. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in its classification of the stock awards based solely on the date of vesting. Remanded.

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Wife sought to collect installments of child support that were due between the years 1967 and 1982. The circuit court determined the total amount of support arrearages due Wife was $73,629. The court of appeals affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether the parties' 1966 child support order created a judgment or judgments that triggered the running of the twenty-year statute of limitations set forth in Va. Code Ann. 8.01-251(A), therefore barring Wife's enforcement of the child support order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) each installment payment ordered by the court in its 1966 decree became a judgment on the date such payment was due if it was not paid; (2) all support obligations ordered by the divorce decree became due and owing in 1982, when the youngest child for whom Husband owed support reached the age of eighteen, and thus created judgments on or before that date; and (3) this action to collect past due child support obligations, based on the 1966 decree, was filed more than twenty years after any payments ordered by the decree became judgments by operation of law, and was barred pursuant to section 8.01-251(A). Final judgment entered for Husband.

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Justine Critzer died intestate with, apparently, no spouse, siblings, children or parents to survive her. Nancy Donak, the administratrix of Critzer's estate, subsequently discovered that the Mary Kummer ("Mrs. Kummer"), the deceased mother of Richard and Charles Kummer and Jane Kummer Stolte ("Kummer children"), was the biological sister of Critzer. Consequently, the Kummer children were Critzer's closest surviving heirs. After the Kummer children began to administer the estate, Donak filed a motion for rule to show cause against distribution based upon the fact that Mrs. Kummer had been adopted at the age of fifty-three by her aunt by marriage. At a hearing to determine the effect of Mrs. Kummer's adoption, the court held (1) the Kummer children were not Critzer's heirs at law because Mrs. Kummer's adoption severed their legal ties to Critzer and her estate, and (2) Virginia's statutory scheme does not distinguish between the adoption of an adult and the adoption of a minor. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding that the Kummer children were not heirs-at-law of the Critzer estate because their mother's adult adoption severed their inheritance rights.

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Leslie Todd gave birth to a female child while incarcerated. Lucretia Copeland eventually became the baby's primary physical custodian. Approximately two years later, Copeland filed a petition to adopt the child without the consent of Todd pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 63.2-1202(H). The circuit court granted Copeland's petition, holding that Todd failed to maintain contact with the child for a period of six months prior to the filing of the petition as required by section 63.2-1202(H), and, in the alternative, that Todd had withheld her consent contrary to the child's best interests under Va. Code Ann. 63.2-1203 and -1205. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and reinstated the final decree of adoption, holding (1) the court of appeals did not err in reversing the circuit court's holding that Todd's consent to the adoption was not necessary under section 36.2-1202(H), but (2) the court of appeals erred in its judgment that the circuit court violated Todd's constitutional rights under sections 63.2-1203 and -1205 as the circuit court gave adequate consideration to Todd's due process rights and Todd's equal protection rights were not violated.