I can’t get a Virginia annulment. What next?

If you’re like most women, you can’t get an annulment in Virginia. Annulments are pretty difficult to get, and only apply in a couple of super narrow circumstances. (For more information about annulments, or to find out whether you might qualify, click here.)
I definitely understand the appeal of an annulment. It would be nice to think that you could erase your bad marriage and, legally at least, make it like it never happened. That’s rarely the case, though, and, even though it’s mostly for good reasons, it can be a really frustrating thing to discover.
There are lots of misconceptions about annulments that we hear through popular culture—TV, movies, whatever. People tend to think that if they were only married a short period of time, for example, that they qualify to receive an annulment. That kind of thinking is, in Virginia at least, simply false.
Let’s work off the assumption that, in your particular case, you can’t get an annulment. (Discussing whether you might qualify is outside of the scope of this article. If you’re wondering whether, in fact, you can get an annulment, click here. LINK And then, if you can’t, come back here, and I’ll tell you what to do about it!)

Just because you can’t get a Virginia annulment doesn’t mean you’re stuck.

Something, probably something pretty big, brought you here, asking questions about your marriage. Obviously, you’re thinking about ending it, and you’re wondering how exactly that can be accomplished.
You’re not alone. And, if you find out you can’t get an annulment, you’re not stuck. I know it probably feels like, if you reach a dead end, that’s it. But, in Virginia, it’s not. Even still, you may not like my answer.

If you don’t qualify for an annulment and you still want to end your marriage, you’ll have to get a divorce.

That is both good news and bad news, though you may not know it yet.
Obviously, you’re probably pretty well versed with the bad. It means that, legally speaking, your marriage won’t be erased. It means that you’ll have to go through the divorce process, which takes time and costs money. (Though, of course, an annulment would cost money, too. In fact, it might cost a fairly substantial amount of money, depending on the level of complexity of your case.) Divorce is scary, and you’ve probably heard some horror stories. The unknown part of divorce is pretty scary, which also factors in to the “bad news” side of things.
But the good news? There’s lots of that. The biggest and best and most good thing about divorce is that it divides the assets of the parties between the two of them. In an annulment, there is no such thing as property division. How could there be? The reason that property (including assets and liabilities) get divided in divorce is because the two parties to the marriage share the responsibility for anything that is earned, acquired, or purchased during the marriage. Because, legally, the two are one, things necessarily have to be split up between the two in a divorce. There’s no such thing in an annulment case. The marriage never existed, so marital property or assets don’t exist, either. And they certainly won’t be divided. Also, no spousal support will be awarded. How could he have any kind of duty of support if you’re arguing that you were never actually his spouse?
In a divorce action, you’ll be able to ask for all these things and more. Divorce is, at its core, a way of protecting people. Divorce ensures that one party doesn’t walk away with everything and leave the other with nothing. Good, right? Of course it is!
But…isn’t divorce horrible?
You’re probably hoping to avoid divorce, too, because it doesn’t have a particularly good reputation. While it’s not often a particularly enjoyable experience, it’s rarely as bad as TV and movies make it out to be. It could be, but chances are fairly slim.
The unknown is always scary, but that’s probably what you’re really feeling concerned about. Even though there’s no question that it’s not exactly a luxury all inclusive vacation, divorce doesn’t have to be all bad. A lot of it has to do with the choices that you make throughout the process. Working together with a skilled and experienced divorce and custody attorney can help make the transition better than you imagined. I know it’s not ideal, but if your goal is to get out of your marriage and you can’t get an annulment, then your Plan B should include getting the most amicable divorce possible.

How do I make sure my divorce is amicable?

There are a lot of choices that you can make which will, ultimately, make your divorce either harder or easier on you—and, of course, your soon to be ex husband and, if applicable, your children.
Does that sound like a worthy goal? It does to me, personally. Let’s talk about ways to keep the strife (and the costs and the aggravation and the blood pressure levels) to a minimum.

Plan for an uncontested, no fault divorce.

There are only a couple of ways to get a divorce in Virginia. To dramatically simplify things, you can get divorced by negotiating a signed separation agreement—or in court.

Negotiating a signed separation agreement

There are a number of different ways you can get a separation agreement in place—you can hire an attorney, work with a mediator, go through the collaborative divorce process, or do it yourself. The “how” really isn’t all that important—really, it’s up to you. You can choose whichever of these methods works best for you (and your soon to be ex husband), because the end result is the same.
A signed separation agreement is awesome, because it allows the parties involved (you and your husband) to make your own decisions about how all of your assets and liabilities will be divided. The only other alternative is allowing a judge (someone who, frankly, although very intelligent and well meaning, knows very little about you and your family) to make those types of decisions on your behalf.
Separation agreements allow the people involved to come up with creative solutions that take their unique personal situations into account. It’s not a “one size fits all” type approach to a divorce; in fact, we often say that the only limitations, when it comes to a separation agreement, is the creativity of the drafters.

Litigating your divorce

Litigation, on the other hand, doesn’t leave anywhere near as much room for creativity. It really involves you putting your case (and your entire financial future) in the hands of someone who doesn’t know much about you and is super duper busy trying to get to all the cases on his or her docket.
Litigation can be useful—particularly when the parties are completely unable to reach an agreement—but, most of the time, it’s costly and time consuming, without yielding better results. As an attorney, my goal is always to get my client the best result possible while spending the least amount of money.
Just because you can’t get an annulment doesn’t mean you’re doomed to go through a terrible divorce. There are a lot of choices you can make that will lower the burden of stress on you, your soon to be ex, and the rest of your family. For more information about uncontested divorces as opposed to litigated, fault based divorces, click here. To schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.

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