Frequently Asked Questions


When can I get a divorce?

In Virginia, you must be a legal resident and married for at least six months to be eligible for divorce. Additionally, after separation, you and your ex-spouse must live apart for at least a year before you can file for an uncontested divorce. If there are no minor children involved, the parties can sign an agreement concerning property division, support, and child custody and get divorced after six months from the time of separation.

If the divorce is based on adultery or the other spouse has committed a felony and is sentenced to more than a year of incarceration, there is no waiting period.

How does property division work in Virginia?

Any property acquired during the marriage is considered “marital property,” and unless stated otherwise, Virginia courts will presume that it’ll be split equally between you and your ex-spouse. Not only are tangible objects like real estate and vehicles up for division, but intangible property like military retirement, life insurance, and retirement benefits are also subject to division. During the division process, the courts will look at:

  • Circumstances surrounding the age and health of both parties
  • The length of the marriage
  • The events contributing to the breakdown of the marriage
  • Each individual’s contribution to the marriage

What’s going to happen to our children?

When going through a divorce in Virginia, courts favor giving parents joint legal and physical custody. Legal custody is the parent’s ability to choose the child’s medical care, education, and religious upbringing. Joint physical custody means that each party is entitled to equal time with the children.

Of course, the court will determine what’s in the children’s best interest. This means they’ll consider the child’s reasonable interest, medical needs, and relationship with close relatives. Both parties’ ability to care for the children will also be considered. Incidents of past abuses will also be considered when deciding whether a certain spouse will have access to the children.

Can I change my child support?

Yes, you can modify child support at any time. However, if you’re currently paying child support in Virginia and want to change the amount you’re responsible for each month, you must prove some things. First, you need to prove that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred in your life. Examples of this can include the loss of a job or a considerable decrease in income.

Secondly, you might be asked to contribute more to child support if you’ve had a significant increase in income. Of course, it might be hard to know whether you will be legally obligated to pay more in child support. It might also be hard to know when you should reach out for representation when you’re trying to receive additional child support from an ex-spouse due to a life change. Seeking the proper legal representation will ensure that you and your children are monetarily taken care of.


Can I adopt a child in another state?

Yes, interstate adoption allows you to adopt a child across state lines. The interstate adoption process is similar to adoption within the same state. The parents hoping to adopt the child must first get a family profile or home study and adhere to their state's adoption law.

Prospective parents must meet the laws of the state where the child lives to be eligible to adopt the child. The process also involves the interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). The sending state's ICPC will not approve the child's transfer if the prospective adoptive parents fail to comply with the state laws.

How long does the adoption process take?

This depends on the adoption type—generally, couples hoping to adopt need to be ready for a long, and sometimes bump, ride. No two adoptions are the same, and because of this, for example, a newborn baby adoption in the United States can be quick or drag on, taking years. This is because the speed of the adoption process depends on two stages: pre-placement and post-placement.

Pre-placement is the period before the child enters your home, while post-placement is after the child settles in your home. These stages are critical to the adoption process, and their time frames typically differ.

Is there a way to receive financial assistance to adopt a child?

There are state adoption assistance programs to help potential adoptive parents afford the expenses of raising the adopted child in foster care. The financial assistance varies from state to state but typically includes monthly cash payments and adoption expenses.

Child support

How can I get child support?

You can get child support through the Juvenile and Domestic Relation Court (JDRC), the Circuit Court, or administratively through the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE).

How long do I have to pay child support?

The payments can be terminated when the child reaches the age of majority or graduates from high school. The custodial parent of a child with a physical or mental illness should continue offering support even after this period. There are circumstances when the child's emancipation can be contested. If this happens, consider reaching out to a family law attorney.

What if I cannot make child support payments?

If you are unable to pay child support, you should take appropriate measures to have your existing order modified. For the best outcome, it's better to hire the representation of a lawyer to guide you through this process.

Child custody

Who has the right to custody?

The decision to award custody lies with the court. The judge can decide to award sole custody to one of the parents or joint custody. This decision is based on what the court believes is in the child's best interest.

What is joint custody?

Joint custody is where both parents share custody rights. Joint custody can either be joint legal custody or joint physical custody. Joint legal custody is where both parents share the right to make decisions in the child's life. Joint physical custody involves the physical time each parent spends with the child.

How do I determine who gets custody?

The court will determine custody after considering factors such as the age, mental and physical condition of the child or parent, the relationship between the parent and the child, the child's needs, and the role each parent has played in supporting the future of the child.

Estate Planning

What is estate planning?

In the United States, you have a right to determine who receives your property in the event of your death. However, planning for the future can be overwhelming, especially when thinking about what will happen to your estate after you’ve passed away. At Pedersen Law, we’re here to make planning the distribution of your estate less daunting.

Estate planning consists of crafting legal documents that ensure your wishes are known and can be easily followed in the event of your incapacity or death. If you avoid estate planning, the court will appoint a personal representative, otherwise known as an executor, for your estate. This person will most likely be a close relative, but not necessarily, which is why having a plan in place is extremely important.

Why is it important to have an estate plan?

Estate planning is extremely important. Without proper estate planning, your property will enter probate, an expensive and lengthy public judicial process that transfers ownership of assets to your heirs. These assets include real estate, financial accounts, vehicles, business ventures, and other material possessions.

Without proper planning, an average of 18 months of probate takes place before your assets can be distributed. This might cause a great deal of unnecessary stress for your grieving loved ones. 

What is an Advance Medical Directive?

An Advance Medical Directive is a document that allows you to outline your wishes regarding your medical care and end-of-life decisions and appoint a person known as a Healthcare Agent. The purpose of the Healthcare Agent is to act and make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.

What is a durable power of attorney?

A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to appoint a person to act on your behalf for financial and legal matters. Simply put, if you are incapacitated, lying in a hospital, and needing surgery, it allows the person you choose to authorize the surgery or to pay for medical procedures.

What is a revocable living trust?

A Revocable Living Trust is an agreement, similar to a contract, between you as “Guarantor” and you as “Trustee.” The Trust is “revocable,” meaning you continue to retain use and control over your property, and the Trust can be changed or terminated at any time. A trust becomes effective immediately upon your death, and unlike a will, a trust is a private document that can only be seen by you and your loved ones.

What is a last will & testament?

Your will is a document that outlines the transferring of your assets to the people you choose after your death. It appoints a person you have previously chosen as an Executor to carry out your wishes. If you have children who are minors, this document is where you’ll name one or more people to act as guardians to care for them.

If I own guns, do I need a Gun Trust?

To ensure proper distribution of your guns, yes, you will need a Gun Trust.

A Gun Trust is put in place to hold legal title over firearms and to provide instruction for the distribution of firearms in the event of your death. If you’ve planned your estate properly, you, the Trustmaker, will have complete control over who these firearms get passed on to. Firearms are unusual in that there is a large amount of both State and Federal regulation for the possession, use, and transfer of certain firearms.

Firearms and accessories regulated under Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968 or the National Firearms Act of 1934 are far more heavily regulated. They may even expose owners to criminal liability if proper safeguards are not taken. NFA Gun Trusts are unique trusts heavily tailored to meet these requirements.

How is an NFA gun trust different from other trusts?

NFA Gun Trusts are unique trusts heavily tailored to meet the stringent requirements under Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the National Firearms Act of 1934. Additionally, they need to adhere to the regulations set in place by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

A failure to comply with these statutes and regulations may result in civil or criminal liability to the transgressor. NFA Gun Trusts are designed to meet all federal and state requirements to own, possess, and transfer firearms while providing a safe, legal, and convenient way to own and use your firearms.


What is the law in Virginia regarding DUI?

Driving under the influence with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or above is illegal in Virginia. This law doesn’t just apply if you’re driving. You can still be charged for a DUI if you’re found turning on the ignition while above the legal limit. Additionally, DUIs are not exclusive to driving on public roads, so the law still applies regardless of where you’re driving in Virginia.

If found operating a vehicle on private property above the legal limit, Virginia law still states that you can be charged with a DUI. Taking Virginia’s DUI law seriously can mean the difference between your personal freedoms and time behind bars.

Do I have to take a breathalyzer test?

Yes, if you are caught driving under the influence in Virginia, you are legally obligated to consent to a breathalyzer. Virginia has an “implied consent” statute regarding a breathalyzer test which means a person operating a motor vehicle is deemed to have consented to a breathalyzer by simply turning on the ignition while in the driver’s seat.

If you’ve been pulled over and are suspected of driving under the influence, it’s against the law to refuse a test. If you refuse and do not have reasonable grounds to do so, your refusal could be used against you in court, and, depending on your prior driving record, you could be punished separately for your refusal.

How will multiple DUIs affect my case?

Virginia takes DUIs very seriously. As such, there are significant penalties for repeat offenses. For example, if you’re convicted of a DUI within five years of a previous DUI, the fine increases from a mandatory minimum of $250 to $500 in fines, and the jail sentence increases from no minimum to a minimum of one month; twenty days of which cannot be suspended.

A person convicted of three DUIs within ten years can be found guilty of a felony with heavy fines and jail sentences. That being said, there are nuances to every case, so hiring an experienced attorney can significantly impact your case’s outcome.

Does it matter what my blood alcohol level is?

Yes, in Virginia, your sentence changes the higher your blood alcohol concentration is. For example, if your BAC is at least .15, the court is required to sentence you to at least five days in jail. If your BAC exceeds .20, the mandatory jail time increases to ten days. The change in blood alcohol concentration also changes the sentence in subsequent offenses.

Criminal Proceedings

I’ve been arrested in Virginia. What happens next?

Two things will most likely happen after being arrested. The first is if you’ve been released on bond after being arrested, you’re allowed to return to your everyday life while you wait for further instructions about when to appear in court for an arrangement.

The second option is a bit more serious. Your next day in court will be your trial date if you’re accused of a misdemeanor. If you don’t make bond, you will not be able to leave and will be held until your trial date. If you’re accused of a felony, a preliminary hearing will be held in General District court.

What happens at an arraignment in Virginia?

In Virginia, your first appearance in court after being accused of a crime is called an “arraignment.” During this appearance, you’ll be informed of the allegations against you, and the court will make sure that you understand the allegations and accusations that have been made against you.

At your arraignment, you have the opportunity to say whether or not you want to be represented by a lawyer. If you want legal counsel but are unsure whether you’ll be able to afford it, you can request the court to appoint a Public Defender to represent you. Lastly, you’ll be informed of your next court date.

However, in some Virginia courts, your arraignment is used for you to plead either guilty or not guilty, as some arraignments are scheduled to take place immediately before the trial is expected to begin.

What happens at a bond hearing in Virginia?

After being arrested and charged with a crime in Virginia, it will be determined whether or not you will receive bond or, as it’s commonly referred to, bail. Most likely, if you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor, you’ll simply be told when your hearing is. This means you won’t have to worry about bond since you won’t be booked. 

However, if you’ve been arrested for something above the classifications of a misdemeanor, you’ll stand before a Magistrate while they make a bond determination. At this point, you might be released on your own recognizance, unsecured bond, or secured bond. During this time, you might also be denied bond.

What are the different types of bonds in Virginia?

There are three types of bonds in Virginia:

No amount of money is set for bond. The court trusts that you will appear on your own accord on the court date, attend all your hearings, and commit to all pretrial obligations. You’ll be released without any kind of requirement.

Unsecured bond: A bond amount is set that must be paid if you do not comply with the obligations that the court set. So, if you don’t show up for hearings and don’t comply with the requirements set for you, you’ll have to pay the set bond amount.

Secured bond: This bond must be paid in order for you to be released before your day in court. You can either pay this money yourself or if the sum is too much for you to pay at once, you can hire a bail bond company to pay your bond for you. After paying bond, you’re still expected to comply with the obligations set by the court.

What if I don’t make bail?

In Virginia, you have the opportunity to appeal a bond hearing to the Circuit Court. The appeal must be noted soon after the lower Court denies the bond. If you are held without bond, you will remain incarcerated until you go to trial.

Since bail is typically granted with conditions if you fail to meet the list of obligations set for you by the judge at your bail hearing.

What’s a preliminary hearing?

In Virginia, a preliminary hearing is held for felony cases in the General District Court. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for the Court to determine whether there is probable cause that you committed the crime. If the Court finds probable cause, they will certify the case for trial at the Circuit Court. The court will dismiss the case if it does not find probable cause.

The preliminary hearing may give you a good insight into the Commonwealth’s strengths and weaknesses regarding your case. Rarely is it appropriate to waive your right to a preliminary hearing; however, there may be times when it is appropriate and even crucial to waive that right.

What do I do if my constitutional rights have been violated?

If you suspect that your constitutional rights have been violated, you have the right to appeal or request a new trial. From the right to remain silent to the right to a speedy trial, your Constitutional Rights are to be respected no matter what charges you are facing. The consequence of a Constitutional violation can range from the exclusion of evidence to a complete charge dismissal.

Can I have my sentence reconsidered?

Potentially, yes. Virginia law allows you, as the defendant, to request your sentence be modified at any time as long as you’re being held locally. A provision in the Virginia Code allows for an individual’s sentence to be reconsidered as long as that person has not been brought to the Department of Corrections. When reviewing a person’s sentence, the court will consider several factors, so it’s important to prepare thoroughly before asking the court to reconsider your sentence.