Addressing Frequently Asked Legal Questions And Concerns
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How can I protect my credit while deployed?
Service members can place an “active duty alert” on their credit reports to help minimize the risk of someone obtaining credit in their name while deployed. This alert will require businesses to take extra steps before granting credit in your name. You will need to contact a credit reporting agency (once contacted, each agency is required to contact the others), request the active duty alert, provide proof of identity, and mark your calendar for a year. If your deployment is longer than one year, the alert must be renewed. Verify that the alert has been placed for all three credit agencies before deploying and keep copies of all letters or emails for your records.
Credit Reporting Agencies:
Equifax – 800-525-6285 Experian – 888-397-3742 TransUnion – 800-680-7289
Am I responsible for my spouse’s debt incurred before our marriage?
No. The Code of Virginia classifies property as separate, marital, or a hybrid of both. Property obtained or debt incurred prior to marriage is included in the definition of Separate Property. The only way you could be responsible for the pre-marital debt of your spouse is if somehow that debt became co-mingled with marital debt and tracing it back out was impossible. This sometimes occurs with property, but is much harder to do with debts.
In finalizing a divorce, you want to be sure to resolve all marital debt, remove yourself from all joint accounting, and have in writing who is responsible for paying off specifics debts as part of your divorce decree (in a Separation Agreement or otherwise determined by a court).
Should I use credit cards for downloading apps or playing games online?
No. To maximize security, consider using a gift card instead. This can protect you from potential fraud and theft loss. While debit/credit cards have fraud protections as to losses (which are different depending on which is used), it's a hassle to work through the loss and get your money back in your bank account or transactions off your credit card account.
If a system is hacked, a gift card may save you the hassle, higher losses, and your primary card being compromised. Thank you, reader Jason for this tip!
If I hit a pedestrian who had a "don't walk" signal, am I at fault?
Maybe. A common misconception is that a pedestrian always has the right of way. This is not true. As long as you were following all traffic laws (speed limit, traffic lights/signs, paying attention, etc.) and did everything in your power to avoid hitting someone once you saw them, then you are not at fault. A pedestrian is at fault if he or she is jaywalking or crossing outside of the crosswalk, crossing against traffic control signals, crossing highways or roads without traffic controls, or walking on highways/bridges/areas where pedestrian access is prohibited. Virginia is one of the few places where “contributory negligence” is still applied, which essentially says that if a person is even a little at fault, they are prohibited from recovering anything in an accident. Every case is unique and if you are involved in an accident, you should seek experienced Virginia legal counsel.
I received a letter from Sentara about possible theft of my identity, what do I do now?
Sentara has offered those affected a free one-year membership to monitor your credit reports – you should sign up for that immediately. Review your credit reports very carefully. If you do not see any errors at this time, be sure to check every few weeks or so over the next year. This information may have been sold to other thieves who could be waiting to use it.
If errors show up on your reports, contact our office and we can assist you in determining the extent of the problem, advise you on what steps to take next and if need be, how to resolve disputes with the credit report agencies.
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.