Virginia Marital Property Division: Gunshot Bullets Aren’t So Bad for The Health Of Your Equitable Distribution

Virginia divorce proceedings almost always involve the equitable distribution of marital assets and debts under Va. Code § 20-107.3.  This equitable division is not guaranteed to be an equal division, but experience dictates that it almost always will be an equal division.  Your military pension will almost never receive special treatment.  Your new business concern, too.  Your lazy spouse’s failure to do much of anything worthwhile will likely not cause the court to bat an eyelash.  So what kind of facts would warrant a deviation from an equal division of the marital estate?  How about shooting the other spouse?

Campbell v. Campbell, 2011 Va. App. LEXIS 263 (2011) provides a nice illustration of the atypical facts needed to achieve an ample deviation.  In that case, the wife claimed that the husband was seriously assaulting their son.  Wife admitted at trial that she shot her husband so as to protect herself and her son.  Wife later claimed upon remand of a different appeal of the decision that her son actually shot her husband.  Regardless of whoever pulled the trigger, the husband lived to see 38 % of the marital estate go to his wife per order of the Albemarle County Circuit Court.  Wife’s appeals followed, including her most recent one in which she alleged that it was an error to award her only 38 %.

The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s award without much effort.  It essentially held that it was not an abuse of discretion to award her that amount regardless of whether she shot her husband.  The court held that it was the law of the case that she shot him and therefore the award was not plainly wrong.  The court further stated that even if that fact were not the law of the case, then the award was still not plainly wrong.  Indeed, the fact that she admitted to the shooting surely facilitated the dissolution of the marriage, regardless of whether she actually did it.  Even if she was lying, the fact that she would have chosen to protect her son rather than preserve the marriage surely facilitated the dissolution of the marriage as well.  In sum, the wife deserted her husband regardless of whether she actually shot him and the award to her of a mere 38 % was not plainly wrong.

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