Separation and divorce most often involve seismic shifts in the lives of the parties and their children. The issues which confront nearly everyone undergoing this life-changing event can feel so overwhelming that spouses and children may get caught in an emotional and financial vortex. Sharon K. Lieblich’s passion as a family lawyer is to guide people through the process of separation, divorce, annulment, custody, support, and division of property and debt issues while helping them avoid “worst case” scenarios. Matters involving the dissolution of a marriage require an understanding of the perspectives of both spouses and often, their attorney’s as well. Ms. Lieblich uses her years of experience in the practice of all aspects of family law, her compassion for the parties and, especially, their children, to assist her clients in the myriad legal issues usually encountered in a separation and divorce process. She believes that learning as much as possible about the family dynamics, as they developed over the course of a marriage or relationship, helps both parties bring closure to their marriage and find ways, short of litigation, to resolve their issues. She takes pride in reaching favorable outcomes in court as well as helping to craft creative settlements; often the most appropriate and creative settlement terms are unavailable to a Court but can be achieved by private agreement. Recognizing that some cases cannot be successfully resolved between the parties, Ms. Lieblich has appeared in trial courts throughout Northern Virginia, handled appellate cases before the Court of Appeals in Virginia, and lectured extensively before her peers on various family topics.
She is the founder of the Fairfax Circuit Court’s highly successful conciliation program and has helped other Virginia jurisdictions as well as courts outside the Commonwealth of Virginia adopt that program. As a local conciliator and mediator, she has assisted countless litigants and their attorneys in finding unique solutions to the entire gamut of family law issues. She also encourages people to plan for everyday challenges of establishing and maintaining healthy marriages and enjoys preparing pre-marital and marital agreements.
Whether a client is seeking advice and representation to formulate an ante-nuptial or marital agreement; defend or initiate a separation or divorce; secure or defend issues of custody, shared custody or visitation; define and obtain, or provide for temporary or permanent spousal and/or child support; identify, locate, trace, and apportion marital and separate assets and debts of a marriage; moving to modify, enforce, or defend against charges of noncompliance with a settlement agreement or a court order, Ms. Lieblich has probably handled a similar issue multiple times and will handle your case professionally and efficiently.
No matter how contested a divorce or separation may become, most people genuinely desire that their children be left out of their disputes; but with changing concepts of what constitutes a “family” and the ever evolving roles of the parents in care and upbringing of their children it is extremely challenging to fashion custody and time sharing arrangements which satisfy parents’ ideas of what it means to be a fully participatory parent and what the needs of any one family’s children or children may be to have successful childhoods free of as much of the inevitable angst which confronts any child whose parents are separating and/or wrestling with hos to sort out child custody arrangements. Ms. Lieblich takes pride in learning the special interests and needs of the parties’ children and their role and place in the family order so that she can guide parents toward working relationships which benefit everyone. Often times this involves recognizing and acknowledging the unique roles of both parents in their children’s lives and helping them fashion new ways of co-parenting and cooperating to raise successful, happy children.
While there are statutory guidelines for factors a Court needs to consider in making a custody determination, the true challenge, in Ms. Lieblich’s view in successfully resolving custody is to identify how the strengths of a parent can be marshalled for the children’s benefit and to maximize the opportunity for that parent to provide leadership for his or her child(ren) in that area. Equally challenging is finding ways for parties to effectively communicate about their children when communication between the parties is otherwise hostile, finding mechanisms for compromise between the parents so that their children are not caught in the middle of “turf” wars and encouraging parties to begin to see the strengths of each of the other as parents so that the children get the best of both of them.
In Virginia, a Court may award a party both temporary and permanent spousal support. “Temporary” support usually is awarded while the parties are separated and until a court hears their issues in a divorce hearing. “Permanent” support may be for a defined or indefinite period of time and may be ordered as periodic payments or as a lump sum, or as a combination of both. The relative fault of each of the parties during the marriage may be considered by the Court in making a spousal support award and can influence the amount and/or the duration of such an award.
While spousal support awarded by a court may be modified at a future time, support embodied in a private settlement agreement between the parties is generally not modifiable, unless the parties’ provided by their own settlement agreement, that the award agreed upon can be changed in the future. Failure to pay spousal support is sanctionable and subjects a party to a citation for contempt and the payment of the other parties’ attorney’s fees. Modifications of support as well as actions to enforce spousal support frequently entail post-divorce negotiation or litigation. Ms. Lieblich has handled these issues over the course of her long career and can advise and assist as to an appropriate course of action in all matters pertaining to support.
Virginia follows an equitable distribution model for division of property and debts acquired during a marriage. The equitable division and apportionment between the parties of their assets and liabilities can involve complex questions of classification, tracing and or tracking, and subject one or both parties to charges of “wasting” marital assets. Marital assets themselves can consist of pensions, retirement accounts, stock options, and other holdings which are challenging to value and apportion. Ms. Lieblich designed and participated in the earliest demonstrations of how to conduct an equitable distribution trial which involved all those complex issues. She has continued, throughout the period that Virginia has applied its equitable distribution statues to practice before courts in the Commonwealth where some of the most highly complex questions have been tried and resolved and/or settled.
Ms. Lieblich frequently encounters situations where she believes a client would be best served in working collaboratively with the other side. A collaborative law process can entail a wide array of techniques not commonly used in a standard litigation model. They range from clients signing contracts, along with their lawyers, agreeing not to bring their matrimonial issues before a court, to informal agreements between both sides to use one expert, such as an accountant to evaluate and appraise assets and to file a report and /or report with recommendations, which both sides agree to adopt. Ms. Lieblich has used collaborative methods for several years and frequently suggests steps which, if agreed to by both parties and their counsel, will significantly shorten and simplify the issues of their divorce, even if their entire case is not resolved by working collaboratively.
While there is not one method which is preferable to resolve every case, Ms. Lieblich takes great pride in being able to advise clients in the utilization of different methods or aspects of different methods to achieve cost-effective, fair, and workable outcomes.
Ms. Lieblich is a trained mediator and often encourages her clients to enlist the assistance of a mediator; however, she believes that clients are well-served to retain their own individual counsel to guide them as they try to resolve their case through mediation. One of the advantages that Ms. Lieblich can offer her clients in this process is that she is thoroughly schooled in mediation and acts as a mediator herself. This experience enables her to fully educate clients on what to expect when entering mediation and how to best utilize a mediator to reach a successful outcome.
In recent years couples have gotten interested in ways to solve their custody and property issues using processes which aim to avoid litigation. Most parties embarking on a separation recognize early on the value of an approach which uses mediation or lawyers who work collaboratively rather than preparing each case as if it will be litigated. It is important to keep in mind, however, that whatever one’s initial goals are, any method of resolving issues will work if both sides remain flexible and willing to work toward resolution.
Ms. Lieblich prepares an annual update reflecting the changes to the Virginia State laws which address Family Law, and reviews cases statewide that may provide precedence for future cases. This update is presented to the Virginia State Bar Association at its annual meeting in June.