If a recently approved bill becomes law, it could mean major changes to the division of property during divorce proceedings in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Legislature of the Virgin Islands approved the bill, sponsored by Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, which would allow divorce courts to determine the distribution of property acquired during the course of a marriage, but Governor John de Jongh vetoed it citing an unrelated amendment regarding casinos. There will still be some exceptions related to gifts, inheritances and judgments, but the new measure would represent a considerable change from existing divorce law in the Territory.
Currently, the principle of community property holds sway. This means that any property owned separately by one of the parties remains in the ownership of that person. Meanwhile, community property, which is the assets acquired during the marriage, is divided on what is determined to be an equitable basis. It is possible, however, for all property to simply be put under one spouse’s name, which in the event of a divorce, would leave the non-owning spouse with nothing, regardless of the length of the marriage.
The new bill would work around some of the complex issues related to property in a divorce by offering a clear definition of marital property as “all real and personal property acquired by either spouse subsequent to the marriage,” and then outline the exceptions to the definition. These exceptions are as follows:
- Property acquired via bequest, gift or descent
- Property collected in exchange for property attained before the marriage, or in exchange or property acquired via bequest, gift or descent
- Property a spouse attains after the legal separation decree
- Any judgment or property obtained by judgment awarded to a spouse from the other spouse
- Property excepted through a valid written agreement between the parties
- Income from property acquired by a method listed in subparagraphs A thru E of section 109(a) of the original statute
In other words, where divorce courts once had jurisdiction over only marital homestead and personal property, the new legislation if eventually adopted would put marital property as newly defined under the court’s jurisdiction as well. This could close a loophole and allow for a more equitable division of all property during divorce proceedings.
For those wondering whether the new law could be applied retroactively to finalized divorce cases, the answer is no — the new law if adopted will only be associated with current and future divorce cases. However, its potential enactment may result in some major reconsiderations for those currently thinking about or pursuing a divorce in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected family law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.