Strategically, in a divorce, there are a lot of different decisions that you can make, depending on a number of factors. Since money is often the biggest issue in divorce (second only to custody, if there are minor children involved), spousal support can take center stage fairly early on, especially if your husband has cut you off from financial support.
Bills coming due or an unpaid mortgage can drive terrified women into my office pretty quickly, wanting to know what they can do about spousal support. It seems like, fairly frequently, women are advised to file petitions for spousal support in the juvenile court. While it’s true that the juvenile court is an option, it’s often pretty slow.
In Virginia Beach, for example, there are currently only five judges when there used to be seven. They’re in the process of getting new judges, but it’s not easy, and it takes time. In the meantime, the currently sitting judges are stressed to the max, and carrying really heavy caseloads. In Chesapeake, they’re backed up even further – with petitions filed today (we’re in mid-September 2018 as I write this) looking at hearing dates scheduled in February and March 2019. It can, depending on the case, sometimes take more than one hearing date to resolve an issue.
The good news? When/if you are awarded spousal support, it can be rewarded retroactively, back to the date that you filed. So, your husband will have an arrearage (meaning, he owes you back support) even on the date that the order is entered, especially if he hasn’t paid you anything while the case was pending. The bad news? The court won’t require him to pay the arrearage up front (especially because he probably can’t), and will just order that he pay a portion of the debt to you each month until it’s paid in full.
Can I expedite my spousal support hearing?
No. Though there are motions to expedite that can be filed in juvenile court, I think it’s probably pretty near close to impossible to get a spousal support hearing expedited. Why? Well, to a judge, it just…isn’t an emergency. The juvenile court deals with protective orders and custody cases, and those case more often constitute an emergency. When an adult or a minor child’s physical safety is in jeopardy, that constitutes an emergency.
It’s difficult, even in custody cases, to get a hearing expedited. I just don’t see how it’s really possible to get a spousal support hearing expedited, especially if your issues are just (I say “just,” though I know how scary it probably feels) that the bills or the mortgage aren’t getting paid.
How can I get a spousal support hearing faster?
Just because you can’t file a motion to expedite your spousal support hearing (well, to state it more accurately, you certainly can, but your motion would be denied, so it’s all a big waste of time and resources) doesn’t mean that you can’t get spousal support established more quickly.
Since you’re married, you can also file for divorce in the circuit court, provided that you have grounds. In order to file immediately, you’ll need fault based grounds – adultery, cruelty, apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion, abandonment, or felony conviction. Probably, if he’s withdrawn all financial support, we can at least allege financial abandonment – but it depends, of course, on the specific facts involved in your case. It’s probably a good idea to talk to an attorney to get an idea of what the best strategy in your case might be, especially if getting into court quickly is a priority.
Once your complaint is filed and returned, it’ll be served on your husband, who will have 21 days to respond. You can then set a pendente lite hearing. Pendente lite is Latin for “while the litigation is pending,” and it’s the hearing at which you can determine how the family bills will be paid, and whether spousal support, at least on a temporary basis, will be awarded.
You’ll still have to qualify for spousal support, of course – which means that you’ll need to demonstrate that (1) there’s a need and an ability to pay, (2) the statutory factors support an award of spousal support, and (3) the duration of your marriage supports an award of spousal support. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer you might receive support – but, of course, this, too, depends on a careful analysis of the factors. It’s almost certainly true, though, that, for a short or medium term marriage (say, 18 years or fewer), you won’t receive permanent support, and it’ll be closer to something like half the length of the marriage. For more information about spousal support awards, click here.
Does this mean my divorce will be more expensive?
Almost certainly, yes.
Divorce can be handled in one of two ways: by agreement of the parties, or by litigating in court. We’re taking the second option, if we’re filing for divorce on fault and scheduling a pendente lite hearing.
It may be that we have no other option, though. It’s also important to keep in mind that, just because we file on fault, doesn’t mean we have to finalize your divorce on fault. We can end up negotiating a result later – and, in fact, it’s pretty likely that’s what will happen – and accomplish several goals: (1) saving money, (2) saving time, and (3) ensuring a better ultimate outcome.
A contested divorce is always, always more expensive than an uncontested one – and it’s contested if we’re talking about going to court. After all, total costs in a divorce are based on how much time an attorney spends working on it, and time preparing witnesses and exhibits for trial, for preparing, questioning, and cross examining witnesses, and even stupid little things, like waiting for your case to be called, can add up and cost a whole lot more.
How much does a contested divorce cost?
It’s hard to say. There are a lot of factors. A contested divorce can be either fault based or no fault based (though, unless you’ve been separated for a year already, you’ll have to have fault to file your divorce immediately). Fault is going to cost more than no fault, since you have a whole host of other issues to prove at trial (basically, to show the judge that you should have a divorce granted on these grounds).
Cases where custody is involved will cost more than cases without custody. Cases with complex financial issues will cost more, too. It’s hard to give a ballpark answer.
Generally speaking, contested cases require retainers of at least $5,000, and can be upwards of $20,000, depending on the issues involved. A retainer is not a flat fee, though, so the case can ultimately cost more – and likely will, especially if your retainer is on the lower end of that spectrum. Contested cases usually cost upwards of $20,000, with more hotly contested cases running an even broader gamut. I’ve worked on much, much more expensive cases. It’s hard to estimate ahead of time exactly how much it’ll cost, especially since so many factors – like how difficult your husband and the attorney he hires are – that are often unknown to us at the beginning.
But, anyway, to summarize: yes, it’s more difficult, and yes, it’s more expensive.
What are my other divorce and spousal support options?
An uncontested divorce is your other option, which is basically a divorce that is negotiated by agreement between the parties. It’s possible that your husband will agree to pay spousal support, and to divide the assets. I’m not saying it’s EASY to get an agreement in place, just that getting one will mean that then you don’t have to go through the litigated divorce process, and you can save money on attorney’s fees as well.
If you can’t get an agreement, your only other option is the contested divorce.
Though you can’t really expedite a petition for spousal support at the juvenile court level, you can file for divorce to move things along much more quickly. Typically, you can get a pendente lite hearing scheduled within 2 or 3 months, which is much, much faster than the juvenile court. It also moves your divorce forward more quickly, which, legally at least, is efficient.
For more information, or to discuss your case in more detail, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys by calling our office at 757-425-5200.