My husband says he’ll never sign a separation agreement

There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to most divorces.  At the beginning of the process, tensions are usually high, and there’s a lot of mistrust on both sides.  Coming to the realization that your marriage is at an end is difficult and emotional, and it’s often surprising how fast people go from “till death do us part” to bitter adversaries.

It’s understandable, though.  It’s really shocking when the person you promised to love most in the world suddenly turns on you.  No matter what the circumstances are that brought you to our website and to this post in particular, there’s no question that what you’re going through is one of the most difficult things imaginable.  And it’s no wonder that, not having been here before, both of you are struggling to figure out how to navigate these tricky waters.  If you can’t trust your husband, who can you trust?

If, suddenly, your husband is on the other side of the table from you, what does that mean about your future?  It’s scary, and there’s a lot of uncertainty that you will have to deal with before you can officially begin to move your case forward. Of course, there’s probably uncertainty on his side, too.  Not that I concern myself with the husband’s point of view, since I’ve made my career in representing women only in divorce and custody cases, but it is often interesting and illustrative to look at things from the perspective of the other side.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other side, but, from my perspective, it seems like people are all too likely to totally refuse to see things from the other person’s point a view—which can be majorly limiting.

By understanding how he’s feeling and what he’s thinking, we can work on crafting a solution that stands to benefit us as much as possible. Let me explain in a little more detail what I mean. I hear all the time that a husband, for one reason or another, refuses to sign a separation agreement.  He tells his wife, “I’ll see you in court.”  He makes threats about what he’ll do to her (like taking a share of something that belongs to her or fighting tooth and nail over custody of the kids) if she does something that he doesn’t want.  “If you touch my retirement,” he might say, “I’ll go for shared custody, and we’ll do week on/week off custody.”  Whatever it is that he says, it’s specifically calculated to strike fear into her heart. After all, who knows you better than your husband?  Who knows better what buttons to push to get the reaction that he wants?  Who knows more about what the most important things in the world are to you? Some husbands are manipulative.  Some are legitimately scared themselves.  Some just don’t know what they don’t know.  Others are just plain evil.

In fact, I had a woman tell me, in tears, the other day that her husband threatened to put their family dog down just so that she couldn’t take him with her when she left.   I’m an incredibly devoted dog lover, and this honestly broke my heart.  I’ve heard some pretty terrible yarns in my day, but this one was just so needlessly cruel and callous that it got to me.  Usually, I can detach myself from the things that these women tell me their husbands say to them; I know they aren’t true, and I know they’re calculated to upset, harass, intimidate, or embarrass their wives.  The dog thing, though, really infuriated me.  And it terrified the woman with whom I was speaking at the time, so it really hit home for me.

I spoke to another woman whose husband told her that if she went after his military retirement, he’d go after part of her business.  She was terrified, and came in telling me how he said he’d shut her down.  Her business, of course, was really her only means of making an income; it was something she had been building up for the past seven years, too.  Why did he say it?  Because he could actually shut her business down?  Of course not!  Because he wanted to upset her. He wanted to get her to give up her share of his retirement in exchange for something that, frankly, was worth far, far less—and he knew it.

When a husband says that he refuses to negotiate a separation agreement, it’s usually one of those types of threats.  He’s saying it to intimidate or harass you.   He’s saying it to call your bluff.  He’s saying it to make you feel like the divorce process is going to be hopeless and fraught with difficulty.  He’s saying it to make you think that you’re no match for him, that he has this all figured out, and that you’ll be bull dozed by him.   In short, he’s making idle threats.   You should know that, most of the time, divorces do settle.  Probably 90+% of our cases ultimately wind up negotiating signed separation agreements and moving forward with uncontested divorces.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s easy, or that we agree about how to proceed from the very beginning.  Often, we don’t.  In some cases, we have to file for a contested divorce first, before we move on to an uncontested divorce later on. If your husband is saying that he won’t sign an agreement, it may very well be that you don’t want to waste time and money trying to draft a separation agreement first.  It may be that, together with your attorney, you choose to file for divorce first—hoping to negotiate a separation agreement later, if he decides to cooperate. Every case is unique, so it’s definitely a good idea to talk to an attorney one on one to come up with a plan for how to move your case forward.  You may decide to take a stab at an agreement first anyway, especially if you think his is an idle threat.  If you think, though, that he’s going to completely refuse to sign an agreement, you can file for divorce first.

That way, too, you can even have the opportunity to schedule a pendente lite hearing, where you can ask for temporary child and spousal support, an order granting you exclusive possession of the home, temporary restraining orders, and more.   We can take time to discuss your options, given the specific circumstances in your case, but you should definitely be aware, ahead of time, that he, in all likelihood, WILL say things to upset you.  He doesn’t say them because he knows anything about the law, but only because he knows exactly what types of things will shake you to your core.  Don’t believe him.  Or, at least, don’t just blindly take his word for it.  Work with a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce attorney who can help you come up with a custom tailored strategy.  Whether your first steps are to draft a separation agreement or whether you’re going to go ahead and file for a divorce, you do have options.  It’s not up to him to dictate the terms of your divorce.  You have rights, and we will help you protect them. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.

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