You’ve Googled, and still you’ve found nowhere reputable that offers anything even close to approximating the kind of divorce paperwork you’d need to file for divorce on your own – without the help of a divorce and family law attorney – in Virginia.
There’s Legal Aid, but, of course, they won’t help unless you’re really poor. Even if you are really poor, chances are they still won’t help (it’s not their fault; they just don’t have the manpower). They’ll give you a consult, give you some legal advice, and send you on your way to handle it on your own.
There’s all those “free” do it yourself divorce sites, but they don’t really help with much, do they? Some of them have forms, but you can’t tell if they’re up to date, if they’re Virginia specific, or if they’ll accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish. Or they’re full of “legalese” (that’s the word we use to describe overly legal-sounding verbiage) that you don’t understand, and you’re afraid to move forward using a document that you don’t understand. (That’s a wise choice, by the way.)
The truth is, though, that it’s difficult to find the specific divorce paperwork you’ll need to successfully move your divorce forward. Divorce can go down in a number of different ways, and that can dramatically impact the type of paperwork you’d need to file with the court or negotiate between you and your husband. And, of course, some types of divorce are easier to handle on your own than others. (In fact, there are definitely some types of divorce that I would not recommend that you try to handle on your own—ever.)
So, let’s discuss the different types of divorce, and the types of divorce paperwork you’d need to move each case forward. Okay? Sound like a plan?
A divorce can be either contested or uncontested, fault or no fault. An uncontested divorce means that the two of you have reached an agreement regarding how your assets and liabilities will be divided. In an uncontested divorce, you negotiate a separation agreement. Because you’ve reached an agreement, you also agree that you’ll move forward on no fault grounds, which just means that (1) you won’t pursue fault based grounds (even if you have them), and (2) your grounds are based on your period of separation (in Virginia, one year, unless (1) you don’t have minor children, and (2) already have a signed separation agreement in place).
A contested divorce means that you haven’t reached an agreement regarding how your assets and liabilities will be divided. If you can’t agree, you have to go to court and let the judge decide. A contested divorce can be either fault based or no fault based; after all, just because you can’t agree on how to divide your things doesn’t mean that you have fault based grounds, or, if you do, that you’ll choose to pursue them. (In a no fault divorce, on the other hand, you can’t use fault based grounds at all. Because fault based grounds have specific civil and criminal penalties, you’d have to go litigate your grounds in front of the judge—and meet a specific burden of proof—in order to get divorced using your grounds.)
A contested divorce is the more difficult divorce. It’s more expensive and more time consuming, too, which means that, frankly, you’re probably pretty unlikely to be successful without hiring an family law attorney to represent you. Whether you’re litigating fault and how your things will be divided or just how your things will be divided, you’re in for a long, difficult, emotional road.
What type of divorce paperwork will you need? Lots. In order to file for divorce, you’ll have to prepare a complaint. A complaint is the legal document that gets you in front of the court. If your husband already filed a complaint, you’ll have to file an answer and counterclaim (and do it within 21 days or risk waiving your right to respond at all).
You’ll also have to prepare and serve discovery on the other side, as well as schedule and prepare various pre-trial conferences, briefs, and more. Really, it’s hard to say exactly what documents you’ll need for sure, because each contested divorce is different. Sometimes, we have to file different motions or show causes, depending on the difficulty presented by the other side. It really depends, and it’s hard to predict ahead of time exactly what you’ll need to file. And, of course, although we often use forms as a guideline, they’re really just templates—each case is unique, with specific facts and circumstances, and we spend considerable time preparing each document so that it’s perfect for the case at hand. One show cause isn’t the same as another, so even having a “form” document wouldn’t be that helpful to you in your case.
Really, if your case is contested, like it or not, you’re going to want to talk to a family law attorney. Court wise, there are so many rules to follow and procedures to be observed, that it’s difficult for a non attorney to navigate the system on her own. You could try, of course, but I just wouldn’t advise it. There’s a lot at stake in a divorce case, and you’re going to want to make sure that you’re taking the right steps to really be able to protect yourself. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but—I think I’d be doing you a disservice if I acted like I thought it was really possible. There are full-fledged, licensed attorneys who have been practicing for years and haven’t handled a full divorce trial yet. It’s not a dig against you at all; it’s just…well, me saying very practically that you have a lot at stake (especially if you have kids) here.
In an uncontested divorce, though, it may be possible to represent yourself. It’s a much less complicated process, but it does include the filing of specific types of divorce paperwork. Your first step will usually be to draft and negotiate a separation agreement.
Again—there’s not really a “form” I can provide you with, as separation agreements are so uniquely tailored to each particular woman we represent. We don’t have a generic document we use; all ours are highly specific and drafted to suit each particular person.
Once you get your separation agreement in place, that’s when you start talking about divorce paperwork. These types of documents ARE more like forms, and they’re not nearly as specific from case to case.
For example, here’s a complaint (again, the document that formally begins your case with the court) that would apply in an uncontested, no fault divorce based on a one year separation for a couple with children:
VIRGINIA: IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF ____________________
COMPLAINT FOR DIVORCE
ON GROUND OF ONE YEAR SEPARATION
1. The parties were married on the _____ day of _____________ (month), __________ (year) in the City of ____________________________, State of ________________________.
2. There are _____ children born or adopted of this marriage, namely ___________________________ (full legal name), _________________(date of birth), xxx-xx-___________ (last four digits of social security number); and ______________________________(full legal name), __________________(date of birth), xxx-xx-_____________ (last four digits of social security number).
3. Plaintiff is domiciled in and has been an actual bona fide resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia for at least six months immediately before bringing this suit;
4. Both parties are of sound mind, over the age of 18 years, and neither is an active member of the military service of the United States; (IF THE DEFENDANT IS IN THE MILITARY, HE MUST SIGN A SOLDIER’S AND SAILOR’S CIVIL RELIEF ACT WAIVER)
5. The parties have lived separate and apart without cohabitation and without interruption since ______________ (month), __________ (day, if you do not remember the exact day, use the last day of the month you just listed), ___________ (year), and that separation has been continuous and uninterrupted since that date; and
6. There is no hope or possibility of reconciliation between the parties.
7. The parties have entered into a Property Settlement Agreement dated _________ (day), __________________ (month), _________________ (year).
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff prays as follows:
That she be granted a divorce from the bond of matrimony on the ground that the parties have lived separate and apart without cohabitation and without interruption for more than one year; to wit: since _______________(month), _______(day, if you do not remember the exact day, use the last day of the month you just listed), _________ (year); and
That the Plaintiff’s maiden name be restored to ________________________________. (List your full maiden name; optional).
I ASK FOR THIS:
_____________________________________ (your signed name)
_____________________________________ (your typed/printed name)
_____________________________________ (your complete address)
_____________________________________ (your daytime phone number)
That’s not all you’ll need, but it’s a start. After you file for divorce, you’ll also need to prepare a final divorce decree, either request an uncontested divorce hearing or prepare your witness affidavits, fill out a VS-4 form, a confidential addendum, and a child affidavit. A couple of these things can be found on the court’s website by clicking here, but not all. You can get a copy of the VS-4 in the clerk’s office, too. (The court isn’t historically particularly helpful!)
For more information or to schedule an appointment, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.