Everyone knows that divorces tend to be long, drawn out, complicated, and very, very expensive. Most people don’t really know exactly how expensive or how long (or why it’s expensive and takes a long time), they just know that it’s generally pretty bad and they’d like to avoid all that unpleasantness, if at all possible. The truth is, though, that not all divorces take a long time or cost a lot of money. The truth is that there are a lot of choices you can make that affect how long your divorce takes and how much it costs. Of course, the cost of divorce isn’t only measured in time and money; it’s also measured in things like your physical and mental well being and the safety and security of your children. When you think of it like that, doesn’t it make you want to do everything you can to minimize the costs involved?
Even though you probably already know that the choices you make can ultimately affect the way your case progresses, deep down, it can be difficult to separate your emotions from your common sense. Especially when you feel like the whole world around you is crumbling away, it’s hard not to let your feelings get the better of you. It’s hard not to feel angry and resentful and really unbelievably sad, as you mourn the life you thought you’d always have and start to plan for your new future, which probably seems pretty scary right this very minute.
Still, there are things you can do to help minimize the impact of your divorce on yourself and your family and friends. You may not feel like you have a lot of control over the situation right now, but you really do. No matter how much you feel like your soon to be ex husband is calling the shots or dictating how things go, you have a great deal of control over the situation based on how you react to things.
Today, I’ve worked on compiling a list of seven important things you should do during your Virginia divorce to save yourself as much time, money, and hassle as possible. I think this will be really helpful for women facing divorce, so that you keep yourself grounded, maintain a solid perspective about what’s coming, and still make sure to do absolutely everything necessary to protect yourself.
1. Hire an attorney, or come up with a plan that allows you to benefit from the knowledge and experience of one.
If at all possible, you definitely want to hire an attorney, especially if you’re thinking that your divorce may wind up in court. Divorces are complicated, and involve a pretty extensive knowledge of the law and how it might be applied in each unique case. It’s best to hire an attorney with extensive experience in family law or domestic relations (different words that mean the same thing), preferably one that practices family law exclusively. Like with almost any area of the law, there are constant changes and updates, and you want to be sure your attorney is up to date on every little nuance.
Your attorney can help you through the process, no matter what comes up. That’s important!
If it’s not possible to hire an attorney, you want to make sure you can at least talk to an attorney if you have questions or get stuck. In Virginia, you’re allowed to represent yourself in court without hiring an attorney, but it’s definitely risky. Without knowing the law, you can do more harm than good. So what can you do?
Most attorneys will meet with you at their hourly rate if you have questions, whether you want to interview them in detail about what your next steps should be or you need help reviewing a document you have already drafted. You don’t have to actually hire the attorney in order to ask them questions. Usually, you can just meet with them for an hour at a time, just to get enough information to help you move your case forward yourself.
2. Listen to your attorney’s advice.
Your attorney is your friend, not your enemy. Your attorney is listening, and is doing everything possible to help you get the outcome you said you wanted. Your attorney wants you to listen critically, ask questions, and understand what’s going on. Your attorney wants you to be happy. Listen to and trust your attorney. After all, you paid your attorney a lot of money to help you. Don’t you want to leverage that investment?
One of the most frustrating things that can happen in a divorce case (from our perspective) is when a client doesn’t follow our advice and ends up making things worse than they were before. If you don’t understand something your attorney told you to do, or have some concern that your attorney’s advice isn’t going to serve your best interests, talk to your attorney before you disregard his or her advice. Just because you don’t automatically understand where your attorney is going, don’t assume that her advice is inappropriate or wrong. Ask questions where you’re confused or don’t understand something. Don’t disregard your attorney’s advice. If you think your attorney made a mistake or doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say, it’s time for a conversation. Chances are great that, if the two of you talk it over, you’ll both walk away with a better understanding of the case and more confidence in the outcome.
3. Be organized.
A lot of what costs money in divorce is organizing everything so that it all makes sense. In a divorce, everything has to be divided—from retirement accounts to bank accounts and stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Not only that, but things have to be valued, like the marital home or any other valuable personal property you own. Additionally, if you’re asking for support, the court is going to want to know how much money you make and how much money you spend on a regular basis. You may have to disclose everything from your credit card debt to your daycare expenses and even how much you spend from month to month on groceries, entertainment, cable, cell phones, and more.
If your attorney asks you for information to help draft your separation agreement or begin to prepare for court, you should provide it as early as possible in as complete a form as possible. That way, your attorney isn’t sitting around wasting precious time when she could be working on your case. Additionally, she isn’t calling and contacting you over and over again to ask for the same stuff she wanted three weeks ago (which costs you money).
You should also provide your information in as organized a format as possible. Keep like things together, and organize chronologically, if possible. If you think your attorney mind be confused about something, put a post it note on the page with a little annotation of your own. It doesn’t have to be organized in a specific way, but you should do what you can to make it easy for your attorney and her paralegal to take and use however they need to use it to get your case done.
4. Set goals. Determine what matters most to you, figure out how to get what you want, and, for everything else, just let it go.
Set goals early in the process. Ask yourself what really matters. Envision yourself in the future, and ask what you need to do to make your vision of the future a reality. If you don’t think about your goals ahead of time, it’s easy to feel like absolutely everything is the most important thing in the world. It’s also easy to then wind up with things that really aren’t all that important to you because you didn’t differentiate between what was important and what was not. Then what happens is that you end up with a settlement where you get some things that were actually important and some things that weren’t all that important but you felt like they were at the time.
Differentiating between what is truly important to you and what you can let go is an important part of the process. It’s reality, too, because there’s absolutely no way in the world you’re going to walk away with absolutely everything and leave your soon to be ex with nothing. That’s just not the way it works. There’s going to be some give and some take, so it’s best for you if you spend some time thinking about where you’re willing to give in order to be able to get what you want to take.
5. Come to terms with the fact that you will have to share your children.
If you and your soon to be ex husband share children in common, you’re definitely going to have to share those children with him after your divorce is entered. Deep down, most people know this, but, for some reason, they still aren’t prepared for what it means and how it feels when they have to pack their child up for visitation the first time.
When you’re married, there’s no such thing as custody or visitation. You share the children, and you each contribute different things to their upbringing. It’s rare that married people really think about how much time each of them is spending with the child, or feels grudging when the other parent invests extra time in the child, even one on one. When you’re divorced, though, and you have to send your child away with the other parent every other weekend or for even longer periods of time, that amount of time away from the child suddenly seems overwhelming.
Not every couple fights over custodial arrangements, but most of the moms I see struggle with the thought of spending so much time away from their children. Usually, it’s not because they don’t want dad to have time with the child (on the contrary, most moms emphasize how important they believe their child’s relationship with her father is), it’s just that it feels so different (and hurtful) that there is time that the child spends away where they aren’t allowed to be present, too.
It feels different after divorce, but it’s something that you’re going to have to come to terms with.
6. See a therapist.
The best piece of advice I can give to any woman facing a divorce is to seek professional help right away. Divorce is complicated, and you’re dealing with a lot of complicated emotions. Even if things are relatively amicable and it looks like you’re headed for an uncontested divorce, there’s still a lot going on under the surface. You’re probably worried about whether you’ll recover, both emotionally and financially. If you have children, you worry about how the transition will be for them, and whether there is anything you can do to make it easier.
Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, or you suffer from any kind of diagnosable condition. It doesn’t mean you’re depressed or have anxiety or are “crazy.” Normal people need help sometimes, and divorce is just one of those times where people tend to benefit the most from having a little extra help.
Talk to someone. Anyone. The sooner the better. You definitely won’t regret it.
There you have it! If you do those 7 things, your divorce will run much more smoothly. In a time where you are experiencing so much upheaval and change, it’s nice to know that there are some things that you do still have control over. By exercising this control, you can help ensure that things will move forward much more quickly and easily than they would otherwise.
Good luck! You’ll be fine. If you have any questions or want to talk to one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.