Hey, it’s okay! If you only recently got married, and you’ve started to think that maybe it was a mistake, I can tell you that you’re definitely not alone. In fact, I think you’re one of the luckier ones. After a year or less, there’s often very little to divide, and no one is so dependent on the other that they can’t imagine how they’ll make life work after divorce. You’ll make it work the same way you made it work a year ago, before you married.
You may still have children – those have very little to do with how long you’ve been married, after all – but financially, there’s less to entangle. I think, too, that very often the parties who divorce after a year or less tend to make an amicable decision together somewhere along the lines of “it just wasn’t right,” or “we both knew it was a mistake,” rather than a big, drawn out fight that culminates in months or years or expensive litigation.
Better to figure out that it was a mistake early on, end the marriage, and then go on about your way in life. Earlier is better than later, in terms of divorce.
How to get a divorce after less than 1 year of marriage
No matter how long you’ve been married, the divorce process is essentially the same. Either you get divorced in court – you let the judge decide – or you negotiate a separation agreement and get an uncontested divorce, without ever (in most localities) having to set foot in a courtroom.
A separation agreement handles all the assets, liabilities, and responsibilities in the divorce. From custody and visitation to bank accounts, cars, and retirement, its all in there. You have to sign off on all of it to make it official, and then pursue the uncontested divorce.
So, you have two options: (1) go to court, or (2) negotiate a separation agreement. That’s true whether you’ve been married 1 year or 10 years or 100 years.
What’s different, though, is that, after just a year, there’s probably not much to divide. Even if you bought a house or a car, the marital portion that is divisible is not that large. There’s not that much to negotiate. While it is theoretically possible that you could wind up litigating your divorce in court, its not very likely because you haven’t had a chance to earn much in the way of marital assets – unless you randomly hit the lottery or something. (And, honestly, I haven’t seen a case like that ever, so I think its probably unlikely.)
Special Considerations for Divorce After 1 Year (or Less)
When you have minor children
Though its theoretically possible you could have older kids – you had them years ago but only recently tied the knot – its most common in shorter term marriages for the kids to be relatively young. You’ll want to spend a fair amount of time considering how you want custody and visitation to work, because it’ll likely have to work for you for a long time.
Custody and visitation of babies and school aged kids (again, I’m assuming they’re younger, even though it is possible they’re not) is often more hands on than custody and visitation of older kids. You’ll want an arrangement that works for you now, and, possibly, could even grow with you as the child(ren) age. Keep in mind, too, that custody and visitation can be modified later on if there’s a material change in circumstances, so you’re not stuck with what you decide now, but you’ll have many, many years of coparenting together and, ideally, you’ll want to do it as well as possible.
Shared custody is not a requirement in Virginia, though many parents do either start with shared or eventually wind up sharing custody, anyway. In Virginia, these days, shared custody does not mean that you’re a bad mother or that you’ve ‘lost’ custody. It’s pretty common.
We do still see some cases where dads agree to primary physical custody going to mom, so its not a foregone conclusion – but you know your child(ren) and your child’s father best.
Though you won’t have that much control over your parenting plan if you litigate, if you negotiate a separation agreement, you can come up with an agreement that’s as complicated or as simple as your situation requires. We see a lot of parents do every other week, and some alternate on more like a 4-3-3-4 schedule, or something similar. You can literally make it up however you want, but keep in mind that shared custody (which just means more than 90 days of parenting time in a calendar year) comes with a reduction in child support.
We don’t see much – if any – spousal support awarded for marriages of a year or less. That’s mostly because you haven’t had a chance to develop that level of independence on each other. You were doing your own thing a year (or less) ago, and can go back to doing whatever that was, and supporting yourself however you were able at that time.
In a case where there’s a big disparity in income, you may receive something for a period of time – say, while you’re separated and the divorce is pending – but there’s little to no chance that it’ll last very long.
If you signed a prenup, the terms of that prenup will govern your divorce. This is true no matter how long you were married, but chances are that very little will be divisible after a year or less of marriage, in any case.
Division of Retirement
You start earning an interest in his retirement (assuming he’s working in a job and saving for retirement) on the day that you marry. You’re entitled to roughly half of what was earned during the marriage so, for you, that probably won’t be very much. You can choose to take your percentage, or waive it (especially if you’re both willing to agree to a mutual waiver, because you’ve earned retirement, too) – but at this point, its not a huge bargaining point. You won’t see the benefit of any retirement until he actually retires, and with such a short term marriage, it may not be worth much.
It’s worth discussing this with an attorney or financial planner, especially if you’re older and nearer to retirement age. (Not only young people get divorced after a short period, after all!) I’m inclined to say generally not to waive anything without getting more information, but that’s just me.
Can I date again?
Dating may not be at the top of your list of priorities, but, then again, it may be. Technically, you’re married until you’re divorced, and adultery is a level IV misdemeanor in Virginia – so I have to say that, legally, it’s probably not a great idea. Keep in mind, though, that adultery only refers to the actual act of sex, not the act of going out on a date – I am sort of assuming that the two go hand in hand, which they likely do at some point.
However, in shorter term marriages, adultery isn’t likely to do as much harm as in a longer term marriage. Its grounds for a contested divorce, which yours likely won’t be anyway, because you haven’t been married long enough to amass any real marital assets. It costs a lot of money to file a contested divorce, and there really wouldn’t be any point if the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.
Adultery is also a bar to spousal support, but, as I’ve already said, your marriage was short enough that you likely wouldn’t receive much (if any) anyway.
Keep in mind that this isn’t gospel. I don’t know you, or any of the unique facts that make up your case. I’m making pretty broad generalizations based on what I normally see in shorter term marriages like this. It is always a good idea to talk one on one with a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce attorney who can help you sort out the details. I only mean this as general information designed to help you sleep a little more soundly at night; I know how stressful these situations can be.
On a personal level, I’d also say you should let go of any shame or embarrassment you might feel. You don’t have to return the wedding presents, you don’t owe anyone an explanation you’re not ready to give, and you haven’t done anything wrong at all by deciding that this marriage wasn’t for you. In fact, you’ve probably done something really right, by stopping it now and not letting it go any further, which would only serve to hurt you both, your families, and any children you have or would have had more in the long run. It might seem like a little too much to offer you congratulations on your decision to end your marriage, but you don’t need to burden yourself with any unhelpful opinions others may have, either.
Oh, wait – what about my engagement ring?
Also: you can keep the engagement ring. The law looks at it as a promise to wed, which you have done, and so you can keep it – for sentimental reasons, to pass on, or, more likely, to pawn. Need a down payment on a house, or a security deposit and last month’s rent on your new apartment? Look no further than your own left hand.
I definitely wish you all the best of luck. For more information, download our divorce book for Virginia women or give us a call at 757-425-5200 to schedule a consultation. We’re happy to help.