Addressing Frequently Asked Legal Questions And Concerns
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How often should I check my credit reports?
We have advised, on several occasions, that everyone should obtain his or her free annual credit reports from the three main credit-reporting agencies. Try staggering them and get a report from one of the three agencies every four to five months, thereby allowing you to check your reported information periodically. You can use the form from our website and select the agency at the bottom before mailing in your request. For most people the information among the three agencies’ reports is similar. You can find the form to request a copy of your free annual credit here.
What happens with custody of children if both parents are in the Military and deployed at same time?
Although the Virginia Military Parents Equal Protection Act helps define situations where a military parent is deploying, it is important that military parents have a custody order in place to avoid unnecessary court battles. In such situations, third-party custody designations need to be considered. Yet another consideration is that of remarriage and the role of the stepparent. While the military may require a Family Care Plan, be advised that any designation within that document will not trump Virginia law. Custody does not legally transfer with a designation made by the parents nor will it with a Power of Attorney. Courts have the sole right to assign custody, not the parents (though courts will usually approve any arrangement agreed upon by both parents). Also, keep in mind that third parties such as step-parents or grandparents are rarely given custody over a parent. There have been many cases where a military parent felt he/she had custody covered only to have the children be given to the other parent while deployed because of the lack of a proper court order prior to leaving.
How your custody order is written can mean the difference between relative harmony between parents or a costly legal battle due to loopholes. It is important that if you are in the military that you have the right legal documents in place to protect your rights and that of your children.
How are accident claims settled?
Insurance claim adjusters take many factors into consideration when reviewing your auto accident claim. They may call the officer to review any statements made at the scene; examine how soon you sought treatment for injuries, or label some injuries as pre-existing and then want to review your medical records from before the accident. Given the uncertainty of the process, it’s best not to speak with the other insurance company about the injury portion of your claim, rather seek counsel.
My personal injury claim is greater than the at fault party’s insurance coverage, what now?
Hopefully, you purchased enough underinsured coverage on your policy to cover the gap in what was covered by their insurance company and the expenses you have incurred. Both uninsured (UM) and underinsurance (UIM) are available when you purchase your policy (and, in fact, Virginia law mandates having both for Virginia policies) and it is a good idea to increase the limits to as much as you can afford. This will give you coverage if the other party has no insurance or if it is not enough to cover your losses.
Do I need a JAG divorce attorney if my spouse or I are military?
No. There is no such thing as a JAG divorce attorney. Which each base has a legal department, their role is not to pursue divorces (and, in fact, they may not even be licensed in Virginia). While there are not many differences in the law involving divorces between civilians and those in military service, there are unique topics and a few laws that require some additional experience and knowledge. While Virginia will have jurisdiction over any divorce proceedings, you want to be represented by an attorney who has experience with the military regulations/laws and factual issues that arise in these types of cases. As an example, one such law is the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA), which deals with the disbursement of pensions and use of the commissary after a divorce is finalized.
Can I receive more support now that I am not working full-time?
Child custody, visitation, and support are always modifiable by a court. In order to change something that has been entered in an order, you must first show a material change in circumstances from the time the order had been entered, and then, if you meet that hurdle, the court will determine what is in the best interests of the child for custody and visitation, and run presumptive guidelines as to support. Many things can constitute a material change - every case is unique, which is why we recommend hiring counsel before seeking a change in court.
Can I have child support modified based on my ex-spouse’s new spouse’s income?
By Code, child support is based solely on the two parents’ incomes. The increase in household income due to marriage, by itself, cannot be grounds for child support modification. However, if your ex-spouse quits his or her job thereby becoming voluntarily unemployed and not able to provide their share of the child’s support, a modification may be warranted. If the court is going to deviate from the presumptive child support formula (which it can do if it finds that the application of such guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case), then it might be able to take such other income into account under the catch-all factor of the Code for such deviations.
Should I give the at-fault party’s insurance company a recorded statement following an accident where I have been injured?
No. One of the most common mistakes made by people involved in an auto accident is to give a statement, recorded or not, to the at-fault party's insurance company. Insurance companies are in business to make money, so if they can get you on record as stating you do not have any serious injuries before you realize you need continued care, they will save money and you will not receive fair compensation for your needs. If you are injured in an accident, we recommend always talking to an attorney to help you maximize your financial settlement and avoid procedural blunders like talking to the other side's insurance company.
I was in an accident and am now being offered money to pay my medical bills, should I take it?
That depends on what you are actually being offered. Will the offer cover all your incurred and projected medical expenses, lost wages, travel expenses? What about your pain and suffering from the accident? Determining what a fair settlement is can be a complex process. Before you accept an offer, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you build a strong and persuasive case using their experience to skillfully negotiate with the insurance company to receive the full compensation your case deserves.
I’ve heard Foreign Divorces are much cheaper and easier. Why wouldn't someone in the military take advantage of this option?
You can get divorces quickly in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, among other places. Getting a divorce where you or your spouse have not established domicile will cost you much more when you have to hire a lawyer to make your divorce legal. Per the U.S. Supreme Court, only a divorce granted in the state which one or both individuals have established legal residence has the jurisdiction to issue such a decree. You wouldn't want to be in the position of committing bigamy after getting re-married because your first marriage wasn't properly ended. I can assist you with a legal Virginia divorce decree while protecting your military benefits.