Can I REALLY get a Virginia divorce without hiring an attorney?

Posted on Jun 5, 2015 by Katie Carter

If you’re wondering, “Can I REALLY get a Virginia divorce without hiring an attorney?”, you are not alone.

There’s no question that, when you’re facing a divorce, there’s a lot at stake. Support, retirement, custody—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. You want to give yourself everything you need to get that brand new start by protecting yourself both in the short and long term. In the short term, you have some big decisions to make that can have some serious and lasting consequences. It’s hard not to feel acutely aware that each decision you make can have a dramatic impact on the way your case resolves itself.

One of the first decisions you have to make, usually without much background or experience in the divorce and custody processes, is whether to hire an attorney to represent you. It’s hard not to feel a little paralyzed; should you or shouldn’t you hire an attorney?

Well, in all honesty, you can rarely go wrong by hiring an attorney. Attorneys have detailed, up to date knowledge about the state in which you’re preparing to go through a divorce or custody case. Not only do they know the laws, they’re also familiar with the local court’s policies, procedures, and rules—which aren’t exactly easy for the pro se litigant (the person who is representing herself) to find, let alone follow. Attorneys also have longstanding relationships with judges and other attorneys in the area, which can lend an extra air of credibility to their arguments.

One of the thing that scares me the most about people representing themselves is that they’ll give themselves a worse deal than their husband’s attorney would give them, just because they don’t know what advantages the law will automatically give them. It happens. It doesn’t have to happen, but it does.
But, back to the original question: is it possible to handle a divorce case without an attorney? The answer is definitely yes. And an even better question: is it possible to handle a divorce WELL without an attorney? I think it’s pretty clear that the answer to that question is also yes, but you’ll have to do some work on your own behalf to ensure that you receive the kind of result you need. As you can imagine, there’s a lot that you don’t know—but there’s no reason that you can’t find out. Right?

How do you find out what you need to know to handle your own divorce (when you don’t know what you don’t know)?

There are lots of free resources out there, but it’s pretty scary to trust your entire future to a nameless, faceless internet source. (Is it just me, or are you naturally suspicious of things that are free, too?) You want to know that anything you consult is Virginia specific, up to date, and doesn’t paint you into a corner. A lot of the problems I’ve seen with free form agreements found online is that they write their agreements a certain way, which may or may not be consistent with Virginia law—if you don’t know, it’s hard to check—making people sign things that are more restrictive than necessary. In family law, what you don’t know really can hurt you.

Remember that this just isn’t about making the conflict stop (though that is important). If you’re involved in a divorce case, this is about giving you what you need (and deserve) to help you start to build your post divorce life. That can include retirement accounts, real estate, and even personal property, not to mention appropriately dividing any debts you incurred during the marriage. All of those things matter, and will help you get back on your feet. A divorce that just gets you out of your marriage doesn’t accomplish anywhere near everything that is critically necessary. Now is the time to do something about it; you can’t go back later and ask for things you didn’t get in the first go round.

So, what do you need to know that you don’t know? A lot of things, but, luckily, if you live in Virginia, there are lots of resources out there that can help you figure things out and protect yourself.

What’s an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce is one where you don’t leave the decisions regarding the division of your assets and liabilities up to a judge; instead, you and your husband negotiate and sign a separation agreement that handles everything according to your wishes. In a contested divorce, on the other hand, you and your husband CAN’T reach an agreement about how everything will be divided, so you have to let the judge divide it for you.

Most divorces these days are handled with a separation agreement, because it’s so much cheaper and easier than litigating your divorce in the courts. Not only that, but it gives you a lot more control over the way things will be divided, so typically people who negotiate separation agreements feel a lot more satisfied with the outcome. They’re also encouraged to reach creative solutions to their problems that take their interests into account. (A judge won’t do that.)

As far as I know, at this point, there is no service available to help people handle their own litigated divorces in Virginia. Really, in most cases, I think it would be a bad idea to try.

What if I get stuck and need a little extra help?

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) 785-9761.