In Virginia, there is no rule that says you have to have an attorney represent you in a divorce case. You are absolutely free to negotiate a separation agreement for yourself or even file for divorce in your local circuit court. Is it better to have an attorney? In most cases, probably, especially if you suspect that your case will have to be litigated. It’s difficult for a non-lawyer to represent herself in a case that would require her to appear in front of a judge or file specific documents with the court.
If you and your husband are committed to negotiating a separation agreement, your divorce is on a different course than a couple who, without reaching an agreement, just filed for divorce.
If you’re negotiating a separation agreement, you won’t actually file for divorce until your agreement is signed and your one year of separation is up. By the time you file, you’ll be able to state in your complaint (a document that must be filed with the court to open up your case) that you’re seeking an uncontested, no fault divorce. This is a much easier process than a litigated divorce.
In a litigated divorce, you and your husband have not come to any agreement regarding the distribution of your property, support, custody or visitation, and you’re looking for the court to help decide these things for you. In these cases, you still file for divorce with a complaint, but your case isn’t uncontested, which means that things will be much more complicated.
Ultimately, you always can file for your own divorce, but whether it is advisable is another story altogether. It’s usually a good idea to speak to an attorney, whether or not you actually intend to hire one, to get an idea of how best to proceed in your particular case. Remember that, though it is easier to move forward once you have a signed separation agreement, you should always make sure that the agreement is a good one before you sign! You won’t be able to go back later and change the terms if you decide that they are unfavorable. Make sure you read it, understand it, and love it before you sign that dotted line. Good luck!