Divorce is difficult, especially at the beginning of the process, and a lot of people need a little extra divorce help. Without knowing what to expect, it’s difficult to begin to plan and make the types of decisions that need to be made to move a case forward. You want to be sure that you’re making the right choices to protect yourself and your family, but it can be hard at first, since you’re not entirely sure where to start.
If you’re looking for divorce help, you’re in the right place.
I think a big part of divorce (or, at least, making the right decisions for yourself and your family regarding divorce) is knowing the terminology related to divorce so that you can understand how it works.
Another big part is knowing what your goals are. We’ll get into the terminology more in a minute, but, before I get going on all that, I want to say that you really should start thinking this all through beforehand. Where do you want to be at the end of your divorce? What is most important to you? I find that when people go into the process without having given any thought to what might be most important, they have a hard time getting perspective. Soon, every little thing feels like the most important thing in the world, which often leaves me feeling confused (after all, goodness knows we can’t walk away with all of everything) and them feeling bereft. I don’t want you to feel that way at all, so I want you to spend some time really thinking and prioritizing. There ARE things that you’ll be willing to give up, especially if giving them up means that you’ll receive a bigger share of something that is more important to you. It’s a good idea to start thinking about those things now so that you’ll have a little extra perspective later on. As far as divorce help is concerned, understanding your goals and how divorce works are two big parts of the puzzle.
In almost every case, though the assets are different (and the way the assets and liabilities are divided are certainly difficult), the goal is the same. The goal is to walk away from the divorce with as much of the money as possible, so that you have the ability to start fresh as quickly and easily as possible. To do that, you have to prioritize spending as little as possible on your attorneys and reaching an agreement together wherever possible.
Okay, so back to the whole terminology thing. In Virginia (and, really, everywhere else), you can get a divorce that is either based on fault based grounds or no fault grounds. You have to have grounds for divorce; it’s just the way it is. Fault based grounds are the predictable things—adultery, sodomy, buggery, cruelty, apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion, abandonment, and felony conviction.
No fault grounds, on the other hand, are based on how long you’ve been separated. In Virginia, to get a divorce, you have to be separated for a year, unless (1) you don’t have minor children, and (2) you already have a signed agreement in place (in which case you can get divorced in as few as six months).
So, long story short, you have to have grounds—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have fault based grounds. You can get divorced for any reason under the sun (good, bad, or no reason at all, in fact), provided that you’ve been separated for the required period of time.
Beyond the whole fault or no fault grounds things, you also have to consider whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested. What’s the difference? In a contested divorce, you and your husband can’t reach an agreement about how your assets and liabilities will be divided. Instead of agreeing between the two of you, you’ll go to court and, ultimately, let the judge decide. In an uncontested divorce, on the other hand, the two of you reach a decision together and set it forth in a document called a separation agreement.
If you go the fault based route, your divorce will automatically be contested. Why? Well, mostly because you can’t AGREE to get a divorce based on fault. Fault is something that has to be proven to the satisfaction of a judge and, to do that, you’ll have to go to court. There are evidentiary requirements, and sometimes civil and even criminal penalties that could be associated with fault based grounds (adultery, for example, is a crime in Virginia—though, admittedly, it’s rarely, if ever, prosecuted), so you have to go to court. There’s no way around it.
In a no fault divorce, though, your case could be either contested (meaning that you go to court) or uncontested. Keep in mind that, just because you don’t have (or decide not to use) fault based grounds doesn’t mean that you can reach an agreement about how to divide everything. You can either reach an agreement on your own—or go to court and let a judge decide.
What’s the best route? Almost unequivocally, if the two of you CAN reach an agreement, it will be in your best interest. It will certainly cost less (which accomplishes your goal of having as much as possible left over at the end of your case) and move more quickly.
What does divorce cost? That’s a good question. In our area, there are really no flat fees in divorce cases; almost all attorneys take cases on retainer (which is just a lump sum of money taken up front and then billed from at the attorney or paralegal’s hourly rate as your case progresses). In our area, a separation agreement retainer is normally around $2,500 (though your case could cost more or less), and a contested divorce retainer can range from $5,000-20,000, depending on the complexity of your case and the issues presented (again, your case could ultimately cost more, but probably not less). Attorney hourly rates (which, let’s face it, are the better barometer of how much a case will cost) often range between $200-500 an hour in our area. For more information on what divorce costs, click here.
Another major advantage of negotiating a separation agreement is that you have control over how your assets are divided. We often tell our clients that the only limits when it comes to a separation agreement are the creativity of the drafters. We can take our time and come up with a custom tailored agreement that takes into accounts everyone’s specific preferences. In court, a judge simply doesn’t have that much time to devote to your case—he’ll often split the marital assets right down the middle, without regard for maximizing their value.
A good example: I once worked on a case where husband and wife were arguing over who would get a car. Try as I might, I could not encourage them to reach an agreement. The car itself wasn’t worth much at all; less than $5k. When we got to court (though we were litigating other things too), the judge told them, not unkindly but certainly in a very businesslike way, that he viewed a divorce as a business transaction. He told them that, in lieu of them reaching an agreement, he would be forced to split the car in as fair a way as he could. He’d order it sold at auction, and the proceeds split. He acknowledged that they wouldn’t receive the value for it that they might if they wanted to sell it privately, but he felt that the auction would be fairer and more transparent and with fewer resulting problems.
The judge sent us out into the hallway to try to negotiate one more time, and, ultimately, my client was able to reach an agreement with her husband to sell the car privately, and both of them got more money than they would have if the car had been auctioned. This is a good example of how judges look at things versus how normal people look at things. You’ll divide your own assets with more care, and certainly with more thought to the future, than a judge would. Oftentimes, a separation agreement is really the way to go.
How’s that for divorce help? Congratulations, you now understand more about divorce than most people in Virginia! And, if you want more divorce help, we’re still here for ya. Consider requesting a copy of one of our free books (we have one on divorce, military divorce, custody, and hiring an attorney)–they’ll definitely help make sure your divorce case gets off on the right foot.
It can be hard, especially in particularly egregious cases, to move past the fault based grounds that you might have. There’s a lot that goes wrong in the end stages of a marriage, and it’s difficult not to dwell on those things. It’s difficult, too, to come to the table and negotiate with a husband who has treated you poorly. Still, it’s usually necessary—mostly because that’s the way you’ll maximize your return on the divorce. And isn’t that always the goal?
If you’re looking for divorce help, you’re in the right place. Give our office a call at (757) 425-5200 to talk with one of our awesome client intake specialists, and we’ll put you on the right path to help make sure you maximize your divorce. We can even give you more information about our free books, our divorce and custody seminars, or our do it yourself divorce website.