Why do I have to follow the rules in Virginia divorce?

Posted on Jan 30, 2017 by Katie Carter

One of the things that irks women the most in the Virginia divorce process is that they feel that they play by the rules while their husband makes his own rules. It’s frustrating, for sure—and, I can tell you, it’s frustrating to be the attorney on the other side of a husband who doesn’t follow the rules, so I can certainly commiserate with you. Still, if you’ve got an attorney, chances are your attorney is giving you advice for what to do. And, probably, that advice is kind of like what your mom told you in elementary school—turn the other cheek, play nice, turn your assignments in on time (even if the other kid doesn’t), and so on.
It’s frustrating to see him “getting away” with not following the rules. It’s symptomatic, in a lot of cases, of what went down in the marriage that led them to this particular path. It’s a way for a careless husband to make you feel like you’ve been victimized all over again, a reminder that it doesn’t matter what the scenario, he’s going to find a way to manipulate the situation to provide his own gain (and your loss).
It’s a complaint I hear all the time. Though the situation is often different, the feelings are the same. Why should I follow the rules when he doesn’t? It’s a reasonable question. And it’s also one that I think I have several good answers for.
I always hated when my mom would throw the golden rule into my face. Or tell me that I should do the right thing simply because it’s right. Or, you know, karma. None of that really seems good enough for me, most of the time. And, I’m guessing, since you’re reading this article, that, somehow, turning the other cheek just isn’t resonating with you right now, either. And that’s fine. You’re in a tough spot, in a really vulnerable and emotional place, and you’re feeling exploited. You don’t want to just blindly follow the rules because “it’s the right thing to do”, you want to have solid, concrete reasons for why you can’t treat him the way he’s treating you. Not that you’d go all Carrie Underwood on him (you know, “Before He Cheats” style) given the opportunity, but you’d like a more even playing field. You’d like to feel like you’re not always at a disadvantage. (Isn’t that how it always feels, being up against someone who has no qualms with breaking the rules to suit his interests?)
Still, if your attorney gives you advice, you should follow it. It may sound like hollow advice, but it’s good advice, and I’ll tell you why.
We can’t go to court insisting that he follow the rules when we haven’t followed them, either. If we do what we’re supposed to do – allow him to have visitation with the children, answer discovery requests, promptly respond to requests for information from opposing counsel, etc – then we have a leg to stand on when we go to court on a motion to compel and request that he be imposed a deadline or required to pay your fees and costs.
Though we generally can’t make him responsible for the entirety of your divorce case, we can ask that he pay for things where he has unnecessarily increased the bill. If we’ve have to go to court to make him do the things that he’s obligated to do (like paying child support or spousal support, responding to discovery, and so on), we’ll have a much, much stronger argument for why we deserve to receive fees and he deserves to be sanctioned.
Besides that, too, there’s the fact that, if you’ve followed the rules, the judge will be more inclined to side with you. If you’re both breaking rules left and right, the judge probably won’t care. It becomes a “he said, she said” type situation where it’s virtually impossible for the judge to tell who was right and who was wrong. (And probably, in a case like this, you’re both at least a little bit wrong!) You’ll want to seem like the mature person that you are (even though you may not feel like it), because that will go a long way towards resonating with a judge.
We call this “unclean hands.” Basically, it means that we can’t accuse him of something that we’re equally guilty of doing; both of us would then be going into court with unclean hands. If we have clean hands, on the other hand, and only his are unclean when we rumble in the courtroom, it changes things a lot. It’s not maturity or doing the right thing just for the sake of doing it, but it is a way to protect and preserve your case, and ensure that your facts are presented in the light most favorable to you on the day that you go in front of the judge. Does that ring a little hollow to you, too? It shouldn’t. The importance of coming into the court in as strong a position as possible really can’t be understated.
I’ve seen judges that really like or dislike particular parties based on their actions, and that ultimately reflects in the final ruling. Even if you can’t necessarily tell that the judge likes you better than your child’s father (some of them are hard to read), that doesn’t mean the judge hasn’t been swayed by the differences in how you’ve presented information and behaved in the days, weeks, and months leading up to trial. Don’t underestimate the importance of looking mature, rational, reasonable, and collected in front of the judge.
If you’re still having trouble, you’re not alone. There’s no question that what you’re dealing with is emotional and complicated. Not only that, but, even though the divorce part is hard, you’re coming off of probably one of the hardest periods in your life, too. When your marriage began to go downhill, you probably weren’t in a great place, either. Going from one bad period in your life straight to another is difficult. You’re not alone in feeling this way at all, but it’s definitely time to take steps to make sure that, moving forward, you start doing better.

If you haven’t already, consider seeing a therapist.

I know, I know. You’re not crazy. Of course you’re not! You’re having a very logical reaction to very difficult circumstances. But a therapist is a great person to help you work through all your feelings and make sure that you’re dealing with them in as productive a way as possible.
We have clients all the time that try to talk their feelings through with us and, while I really don’t mind at all, I’m not sure I’m the best person to talk to. Yes, I can listen, but, at the end of the day, I’m not really trained in emotions or how to make sure that you’re taking steps that lead to your desired outcome. Legally, sure, I can handle it—but emotionally….well, let’s just say there’s probably someone better suited.
Lots of people go to therapy for a short time, or to work through a traumatic event. (Make no mistake, divorce is definitely a traumatic event; I’ve even talked to therapists who say it’s really akin to a major death in the family.) The way you’re feeling is normal and understandable, but you also want to capitalize on those feelings so that you grow and change in a positive way. A therapist can help you do that.

Attend Girl’s Night Out.

Okay, I said my piece about the therapist. Whether you want to see one or not, it’s entirely up to you. I also think that not enough people recognize the importance of girlfriends in recovery. Whether it’s divorce or a death or a bad performance review at work or really anything at all, getting together with girlfriends to laugh and talk is incredibly important.
That’s why we started our Girl’s Night Out event series. We sponsor events, completely free to you, at different venues in the Hampton Roads area. We provide food and drinks; all you have to do is show up. (And, of course, you’re more than welcome to bring along a female friend, relative, co worker, or neighbor, too!)
For more information about Girl’s Night Out or to register to attend our next event, click here.
Otherwise, keep your chin up. I know it’s hard, but it’s not impossible, and you’ll make it through. For more information about divorce or what to expect, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.