I hear things like this all the time. “I just need an easy uncontested divorce,” or “I need my divorce paperwork filed.” Sometimes, it even takes on a sort of insulting tone, “I just need a paper pusher to finalize this divorce.” “There are no issues,” I’m assured. “It’s just an easy divorce.”
Is there any such thing? Well, sure. It can be pretty easy, though that’s not to suggest by any stretch that what attorneys do when it comes to divorce is “push papers”. In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you tried to do it by yourself, you’d quickly be flummoxed. Not because you couldn’t do it – technically, the law is clear in that you can represent yourself in any divorce or custody case in the Commonwealth – but that you’ll find a complex web of rules that are difficult to navigate without experience, even in a so-called “easy” divorce.
But IS your divorce easy?
Maybe. I would call a divorce easy where the parties hadn’t been married that long, there weren’t children in common, there were very few (if any) assets to divide, and the other party was willing to negotiate an agreement.
If there are assets, if there are children, if support is an issue, or if the other party is completely unwilling to negotiate a separation agreement, your divorce is no longer considered easy, even if it maybe should be.
Are we ready to file for divorce?
Another problem I see – aside from people being mistakenly convinced that their divorce should be super easy even when all the evidence points to a different conclusion – is that the parties aren’t even ready to get a divorce.
In Virginia, you get divorced in one of two ways: either you enter into a signed separation agreement and then proceed with an uncontested divorce, or (2) you go to trial, and the judge enters the divorce. If you don’t have an agreement, you’ll either have to get one, or you’ll have to go through the whole trial.
You’ll have to have a trial if you don’t have an agreement, even if your case seems like it should be easy otherwise. Even if you’ve only been married six months, you don’t have any assets, you never had any children, etc. Those are the only two options.
If you don’t have a separation agreement in place, you’re not ready for a “paper pusher” anyway. You’re not ready to get divorced – you have to have that agreement, or you have to go to trial.
But I do have a signed separation agreement!
Great! Well, that’s definitely step one, anyway. Having the agreement means that you likely are ready to begin to move your case towards an uncontested divorce.
Hoping to do it yourself? Just want some of the forms? Sure. Norfolk Circuit Court has a pretty good pro se divorce manual with all sorts of forms you’ll need to finalize your uncontested divorce. It’s the best resource out there that I’ve found for helping people navigate the uncontested divorce landscape.
What is involved in an uncontested divorce?
So many things! And it varies, of course, depending on the case and the issues presented. Though if you hire an attorney you can rest assured that these things will be handled, if you’re planning on doing it yourself, you’ll want to make sure you know what needs to be included.
First off, you file for divorce with a document called a complaint. In it, you ask for the specific relief you’re looking for – specifically, that your signed separation agreement be incorporated into the final decree of divorce. If you want a name change later, you mention that, too. You’ll also include a check to the court to cover the filing fee.
Once the complaint comes back from the court, it must be served on your husband. We use a private process server, but if you are using the court to help you could also use a sheriff. In Virginia, a complaint is served by either personal service (the documents get handed to him personally) or posted service (the documents are posted to the door of his residence). I usually have a husband (if I know he’s not represented by an attorney) served with a waiver that he can sign instead of responding to the complaint.
After he is served, he has 21 days to respond or sign a waiver. The waiver means that you don’t have to give him any further notice of the proceedings, and you don’t need his signature on the final decree of divorce. If he doesn’t respond to the complaint after 21 days, he’s in default, which also means you can move forward without further notice to him. If he does respond, though, he’s a party to the case, and you’ll have to copy him on future correspondence as well as get his signature on the final divorce decree and other documents you’ll submit to the court.
This 21 day period is the longest “delay” you’ll experience. After that, you can move forward with putting the rest of your divorce packet together. In all courts, you’ll need plaintiff and witness affidavits, a VS4 form, a confidential addendum, and a final decree of divorce.
Depending on whatever other issues your case touches on, you might also need to file your name change order (keep in mind that there is a fee for this), or, if you’re dividing tax deferred retirement accounts, QDROs (that is to say, qualified domestic relations orders). If you’re dividing a TSP account, you’ll need an order related to that as well.
Military retirement requires specific language, too, especially if you intend to apply for direct pay with DFAS. You might check with DFAS, if you’re intending to do this all on your own, but they require lots of specific language to be right in the decree and easily accessible.
In some courts, you’ll need other specific documents – like a civil action cover sheet, or a copy of your marriage license. You’ll want to check with the clerk in your jurisdiction to find out whether there’s anything specific or unique that you’ll need.
Will I be notified that my divorce was entered?
Usually, yes – but you’ll also have to include a spare copy of the Final Decree (I usually include an original and two copies) and a self addressed, stamped envelope. The court won’t pay for return postage! Without this, you probably won’t be notified – unless you happen to check the status of your case online.
That doesn’t sound very easy!
An uncontested divorce isn’t that easy! And there can be a LOT of moving pieces, depending on how complicated your divorce is. It’s not just a little bit of paperwork. Even though it is paperwork, it’s not easy! The court wants to see specific things included, and things have to happen in a specific format and on a specific timeline.
You can’t have, for example, your plaintiff and witness affidavits executed before your complaint is filed. If you forget your QDRO, you won’t receive your portion of the 401(k) or 403(b) or other tax deferred account. Without a request for a name change in the complaint, you’ll need both a name change motion and a name change order included at the time that you submit your divorce packet to the court. If you don’t have an agreement yet, you’re not even at the point where you have to worry about these things!
Having an attorney can help you navigate this tricky territory, and can help you ensure that no further problems will arise. As you can tell, there are a lot of places where things can get messed up – and since you have to have your paperwork in order to ensure that you’ll receive your retirement, your direct pay, your name change, etc., you’ll want to make sure it’s done right.
For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.