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Recent Court of Appeals Case Highlights Importance of Protecting Accounts Early in a Separation - April 2013

April 08, 2013

Written by Richard E. Garriott, Jr.

Wright v. Wright. The Wright case involved a divorce between a couple who had been married thirty (30) years.  Mr. Wright is a well known attorney in the Richmond area with a successful practice. Mrs. Wright, while highly educated, had been a homemaker for over twenty (20) years.  During the course of the divorce case, Mrs. Wright sought ongoing spousal support and also sought to have Mr. Wright refund monies he had taken from joint accounts to pay temporary spousal support and his own living expenses after the couple’s separation.

The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the Richmond Circuit Court that Mrs. Wright should only be entitled to four (4) years of spousal support although she had been out of the work force for over twenty (20) years.  This decision may indicate a change in the Court of Appeals view that long term marriages entitle a non-working spouse to ongoing open-ended spousal support.  However, it should be noted that decisions such as spousal support are made on a case by case basis. 

More importantly, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial judge’s ruling that Mr. Wright’s use of a joint account to pay his own expenses during the couple’s separation did not constitute “marital waste”.  This meant that Mr. Wright was not obligated to re-pay the monies that he had taken from the joint account for his own expenses. 

Therefore, for the divorcing party it is more important than ever to ensure that there are appropriate court orders in place to prohibit such activity by either party during the divorce.  This will ensure protection of the marital estate until such time as it can be appropriately divided either by agreement of the divorcing couple, or the court.