Even when one of the former spouses dies, the trial court retains jurisdiction to determine the rights and interests of the parties in the marital property when a final decree of divorce has been entered in a bifurcated proceeding pursuant to Code § 20-107.3(A). In this case, the trial court erred in concluding it lacked jurisdiction over equitable distribution of the marital property.
Code § 20-107.3(A) permits the trial court to bifurcate the divorce from ancillary matters, including equitable distribution. Even after the divorce decree becomes final and conclusive, the trial court retains jurisdiction over those other matters.
Ordinarily, the termination of the marriage by death rather than decree ends a court’s jurisdiction to divide the property pursuant to Code § 20-107.3. But when a court bifurcates a divorce proceeding, the equitable distribution of marital property is no longer ancillary to the final divorce decree, but rather becomes, in essence, a distinct case.
Here, once the divorce was final, the former wife had a right to an equitable share of the marital property accumulated during the parties’ 25-year marriage. The trial court’s failure to fully adjudicate her interest in the material fruits of the marriage subverted the goal of equitable distribution to adjust the property interests of the spouses fairly and equitably.
Reversed and remanded.