When you file a case in the circuit court, it’s a matter of public record. Divorces, therefore, since they are filed in the circuit court, are public record. When you file a divorce, your complaint is either served on your husband by a sheriff or returned to you (or your divorce lawyer, if you’re represented by counsel) so that you can have him served via a private process server. You don’t have to serve your husband right away though; for many different reasons, people often wait weeks or sometimes even months before they actually have their spouses served.
Because divorces filed with the court are public record (much like traffic or criminal offenses are public record), there are people out there who make their living by gathering that information and selling it to attorneys, so that they can direct their marketing efforts to people who will soon need their services. If you’ve ever gotten a speeding ticket, this has probably happened to you. (I’ll admit—it has happened to me!)
It’s a little more unusual, but it can happen in a divorce case, too. In fact, we recently saw this happen with a client of ours. She had retained the firm to represent her in a separation agreement case, and then she got a letter from an entirely different attorney letting her know that a divorce had been filed by her husband in her local circuit court. As you can imagine, it threw her off a little.
So, what happens when you get a letter saying your husband has filed for divorce?
It’s pretty off putting, isn’t it? That a case could be filed against you, and for you to have no idea. To even have had one filed against you after you had already retained a divorce lawyer to represent you and still you had no idea is even more off putting. But, still, it happens.
Technically, since, like I said, a divorce filed is a matter of public record, you could check manually to see whether a divorce has been filed against you. You can do it online. Each circuit court has a way to check a case listing; if you have questions about how to use it, you should call the clerk’s office for more in depth details. (I’m sorry, I’m not affiliated with their websites and can’t really offer you a tutorial!)
It’s perfectly acceptable, legally, to file for divorce and wait to serve. So, even though it feels like it, your husband hasn’t done anything wrong. Likewise, it’s perfectly fine for a divorce lawyer to advertise to you using this material (chances are he bought the list of people against whom divorces had been filed), provided that he boldly puts the words “ADVERTISING MATERIAL” on the outside of the envelope. Of course, you don’t have to contact that lawyer if you don’t want to; it’s not like he or she knows anything more about your case than the mere fact that the divorce was filed. We don’t advertise that way, but other firms do.
…But what happens? Well, technically, nothing HAS to happen. If he hasn’t had you served, your case isn’t moving forward yet. He can’t do anything else with the court, including scheduling hearings or issuing discovery, until you’ve been served. So, as far as you’re concerned, your case is in a holding pattern. You will certainly be served before anything else happens in your case, so don’t panic. If you got a letter saying your husband has filed for divorce, consider it a convenient head’s up. You know about the divorce, but the clock is not ticking (after you’re served you have 21 days in which to respond to the complaint)—so you can begin to plan your next steps accordingly.
In our particular client’s case, she had retained us to represent her in the negotiation of a separation agreement. Chances are that negotiations will ultimately be successful, and her husband won’t need to move forward with the divorce he filed. If that happens, he can amend his complaint and move forward on no fault grounds instead. No harm, no foul. In this case, our client might never have even been served with the original divorce complaint.
If they aren’t able to reach an agreement, though, he could arrange to have her served. In that case, she would either have to hire us or another dicorce lawyer to represent her in a contested divorce, rather than an uncontested one. There’s no disadvantage to her, though, or her case, simply because she didn’t know on the day that the divorce was filed. Like I said, her case was really just sitting in holding until her husband decided how to handle his next move.
Even if he decided to have her served and they began to move forward with a contested divorce, chances are still good that, ultimately, a separation agreement would be reached. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s still possible.
If you get a letter saying that your husband has filed for divorce, don’t panic. Nothing is happening yet, and no clock is ticking. You don’t even need to take any specific immediate action to protect yourself—though, if I were you, I would begin to start gathering information. If you want to know more about the divorce process in Virginia before he has you served, you’re definitely in the right place.
Where should I go to learn more about the divorce process in Virginia?
1. Request a copy of our free book.
Our book, “What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce” is a great place to get started if your husband has filed for divorce.
If you’re military, you’ll want to request a copy of “What Every Virginia Military Wife Needs to Know About Divorce.” Either way, you can’t go wrong.
We’ll send your book to you immediately, in an electronic downloadable format. If you live in our immediate area, we’ll also give you the option to fill in another form (with your spouse safe address information) in order to receive a hard copy of the book. (Don’t worry; we’ll send it in a plain, white, unmarked envelope, so no one will know what’s inside.)
Also, when you request a copy of the book, you’ll also be offered the chance to sign up for our divorce e-course, which is full of tips and tricks about the Virginia divorce process. That’s absolutely free, too!
2. Attend a divorce seminar.
After you’ve checked out our book, the next best step is to attend a seminar. Our divorce seminars on what every Virginia woman needs to know about divorce are offered three times a month, twice on the Second Saturday of the month in Virginia Beach and Newport News, and on the Third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach. Each one is taught by a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorney, so you can ask your questions without paying the cost of a consultation. For more information or to register to attend, click here.
3. Come in for a confidential consultation.
If you’ve gotten the book and attended a seminar, your next step might be to talk to an attorney one on one. Whether you plan to represent yourself or want a divorce lawyer to represent you, it’s often a good idea to take some time at the beginning of the process to acquaint yourself with the law and your options. There’s no better way to do this than by sitting down with an attorney and discussing your case in detail.
For more information about our free books, Second Saturday seminars, or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200. If you found out your husband filed a divorce through an advertising piece from an attorney, don’t worry. Consider yourself lucky to have the head’s up so that you can begin to plan your next steps.