On Monday, we talked about how hard it is to think about divorce during the holidays, and we began to answer some of the more common frequently asked questions we get. We talked about when it was time to leave, if you could make him leave, and whether he’d be responsible for paying for your attorney’s fees. Then, we started in on a discussion of the different types of divorce, including whether or not it’s possible to do it yourself when it comes to divorce.
Today, we’re going to begin by talking about uncontested no fault divorces. They’re important, because probably 90% (or maybe even more) of what we do on a day to day basis is uncontested no fault divorce. Rather than going to court, most people want to leave themselves the ability to make the decisions they need to make—and not leave it up to a judge.
Today, we’re going to talk about these divorces, whether it’s possible to handle it on your own, and what your first steps should look like as you think about divorce. Read on.
Uncontested no fault divorce
The majority of divorces are uncontested no fault divorces. In an uncontested no fault divorce, you have a lot of options. Because you’re not litigating fault based grounds and you plan to reach an agreement about how everything will be divided, you don’t have to go to court at all. There’s a lot more flexibility in how you can move forward, too.
If you go to court, you go to court and then the judge decides. That’s really it. There’s not a lot of control over the situation.
If your divorce is uncontested, on the other hand, you can go about it a couple of ways. The end result, of course, is a separation agreement, but the means through which you achieve that end can look a lot different. For a lot of women, the ability to choose your own method is one of the most attractive features of a separation agreement.
If I want to negotiate a separation agreement, what are my options?
Hiring an Attorney
Most people elect to hire an attorney to begin the process of negotiating a separation agreement on their behalf. When attorneys talk about different ways of getting divorced, this is what they mean when they refer to “negotiation.”
In this type of case, you hire an attorney to draft and negotiate a separation agreement on your behalf—but, of course, with your input. Usually, but not always, there are attorneys on both sides. Because you technically can represent yourself, sometimes one party or the other decides to do it on their own.
Regardless, though, it really is a negotiation. There are no real rules when it comes to negotiating separation agreements, so you should feel free to be open and honest with your attorney. That way, you’ll be able to make your separation agreement a truly customized document that reflects all your goals and priorities, and gives you the ability to have the best brand new start possible.
Hiring a Collaboratively Trained Attorney
Collaboration is a slightly different process. The end goal is still a separation agreement, and it’s still technically a negotiation, but that’s where the similarities end.
In a collaborative divorce, you have to hire a collaboratively trained attorney, and so does your husband. You’ll also hire a divorce coach (in fact, one for each of you), and then you’ll share a child specialist (if you have children) and a financial specialist. In collaborative divorce, you make a pledge not to go to court. That doesn’t mean that you agree easily and never fight over how things will be handled, but it is a different type of experience. It’s much less adversarial and more, well, collaborative (duh, right?). People who go through the collaborative process indicate a much higher level of happiness in the outcome and the process it took to get them there.
In mediation, as you probably already know, you work with a mediator to negotiate your separation agreement. A mediator may or may not be an attorney. In mediation, you and your husband share one mediator between the two of you.
It’s not the mediator’s job to give you an idea of what the law entitles you to, what you could expect a judge to do if you took your case to court, or what a good settlement looks like for you. It is the mediator’s job only to help you reach an agreement.
Mediation can be a great way to efficiently and cheaply negotiate a signed separation agreement, but we always recommend that, prior to going to mediation, you speak to an attorney about what a good agreement looks like for you. After mediation, it can also be helpful to go back to that attorney and have the agreement you came up with reviewed, just to be sure. (Remember: you can’t really go back and change your mind later, so the time to do this is BEFORE you sign!)
Do it Yourself
If you don’t want to hire an attorney to represent you, you don’t have to. In fact, lots of people choose not to hire an attorney—whether because they can’t afford to hire one or just choose to work on their own case themselves, it doesn’t matter.
It’s not really possible to represent yourself in any type of contested case, but in an uncontested, no fault divorce, it is. Of course, if you’ve never done it before (and I imagine you haven’t), you probably have a lot of questions. How do you get started? What does a separation agreement look like? How do you know what the law entitles you to? What is a good agreement?
It’s complicated, and there’s not really a whole lot out there to help you navigate these tricky waters. You can Google a separation agreement, and you can find a blank form. But it doesn’t say whether it’s Virginia specific. It doesn’t even say that it comes from an attorney’s office. (Spoiler alert: it probably doesn’t.) It doesn’t tell you what the law says or what you might get if you went to court. In short, it provides no guidance at all to help you make sure that you’re drafting a good agreement for yourself.
I’ve seen women who draft worse agreements on their own behalf than their husband’s attorney would draft for them. Don’t be that woman!
What should my first steps be?
Well, you’ve already taken some great first steps, and you’re well on your way! Just by reading this, you’ve already got tons of information that lots of Virginia women don’t have.
If you still want more, or you’re ready to take the next step, consider attending one of our divorce seminars. We teach them on the second Saturday of each month in both Virginia Beach and Newport News, and on the third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach. It’s a great way to get information directly from one of our divorce attorneys—because each seminar is taught by one! You can ask your questions and get the information you need to decide what to do next.
For more information, visit our site by clicking here.
If you’re ready to talk to an attorney one-on-one, we can help you with that, too! To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.