Everyone wants to DIY their divorce – that is, until they realize exactly what’s involved! We get requests all the time for copies of the forms that are needed in order to finalize a divorce in Virginia. But the truth is, it’s really not that easy! And it’s not one size fits all.
It’s not like, if you just get some fill in the blank style forms, you’ll be able to just add your name, social security number, contact information, and then sign. There are all sorts of requirements involved, and, in some cases, what’s required can depend entirely on the case. Unique factors involved (like whether you have children, own a home, are active duty military service members, are owed a duty of support, have retirement accounts – and, if so, what kind –) can have a tremendous impact on your divorce.
A divorce divides everything that was earned, purchased, or acquired during the marriage, so, as I’m sure you can imagine, there are as many different combinations of assets and liabilities (yes, liabilities matter, too!) as there are people in the world. I’ve never done two exactly identical divorces! You have to effectively deal with all these items in order to get a divorce; otherwise, the judge just can’t grant it.
Think of it as a series of boxes that has to be checked off. If one single box is not addressed or is insufficiently addressed, your divorce can’t go through. The judge wants to make sure (well, actually, is legally required to make sure) that all of your marital assets and liabilities are handled. If there are outstanding issues, well, how can you end the marriage?
To be sure, it’s easier to “DIY” your divorce, if such a thing is even possible, if you were married a short time, have no children, and have no (or very few) shared assets. But even in these cases, you’ll need to resolve the issues you do have, which is no small feat.
In Virginia, you can get divorced in two ways – either, with a separation agreement (a legal contract that divides the assets and liabilities in writing) or in a trial in front of a judge (where a judge decides how all of your assets and liabilities will be divided for you).
If you’re talking about DIY, you’ll either want to draft and negotiate your own separation agreement, or draft and file the appropriate petitions with the court in order to get your trial scheduled. Of course, there’s also the matter of actually representing yourself in court when your trial date comes, which is no small feat, as well as navigating an ever-increasing barrage of court requirements. Service of process, proffers, settlement conferences, pre trial motions and briefs, etc., are required in many courts, and, regardless of your level of expertise, you’ll need to be prepared to navigate these things.
An agreement is typically easier and cheaper, but, once your agreement is signed and negotiated, you’ll still need to file for an uncontested divorce, and fill out all the relevant paperwork. It’s not just a matter of having a separation agreement, you’ll need to file a complaint, serve process on your husband, draft a final decree, prepare plaintiff and witness affidavits, a VS4, child affidavits, etc – not to mention any documents (which can be very technical) needed to effectively divide your retirement accounts!
Just the documents needed to divide retirement accounts are case-specific. Many employers have specific forms that you must use already, but what you need to include and how you need to proceed can vary depending on the type of retirement account involved. A TSP is different from a 401(k) which is different from a 403(b) which is different from a pension, for example!
All of that to say that, really, there’s no such thing as “one size fits all” divorce forms. There’s not, like, one master form that we keep secret in our word processors and dole out in every scenario, regardless of the circumstances. It’s not that easy! In fact, it’s pretty complex. Without pretty extensive knowledge of the law, legal requirements, and the ability to write fairly ironclad contracts, you’re going to be facing an uphill battle, to say the least.
There are some places that offer some forms – Norfolk Circuit Court, for example, has a pro se (meaning, a person who represents herself without an attorney) divorce manual, but it really just contains samples of documents needed to finalize an uncontested divorce. It does not offer any assistance drafting a separation agreement, and it doesn’t do the more nuanced parts of the uncontested divorce (like dividing retirement accounts).
It’s not that you can’t do it yourself. Legally, of course, you can. It’s just that there are lots of opportunities for mistakes, and if you don’t make a serious effort to educate yourself, it can cost you a lot later on down the line.
Of course, there are resources to help you educate yourself! We offer a free divorce book, and a low cost divorce seminar that’s full of important information you’ll need to know if you intend to DIY. It’s a LOT to teach someone, though, so beware – you’ll want to bring a pen and pencil to the seminar!
For more information, or to set up a time to discuss your situation one-on-one with a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.