If you and your husband are already pretty much in agreement, that’s great! Still, there are procedural steps that you’re going to want to take to protect yourself, and to ensure that as you move towards an uncontested divorce, you’re in as strong of a position as possible.
What do I need to get an uncontested divorce in Virginia?
Basically, to get an uncontested divorce in Virginia, you’re going to need to have a separation agreement in place. Even if you and your husband have pretty much agreed about everything, and even if you’ve already divided many of the assets to your mutual satisfaction, some sort of writing is going to be necessary—if not for your sake (and I definitely recommend it just for that reason), then also for the court’s. Most courts require that you have a signed separation agreement in order to move forward with an uncontested divorce (and certainly if you don’t have minor children and you’re trying to move forward based on a 6 month separation), and you’ll have a very difficult time moving forward without one. (And, really, I can’t think of why you’d want to – a separation agreement is going to protect you in more ways than one.)
Can’t I just draft a separation agreement myself, or have a mediator draft a separation agreement for me?
You don’t necessarily need an attorney to help you draft your separation agreement, but, again, I recommend it. Though you can draft it yourself, or rely on a mediator to help you memorialize your agreement, it’s kind of risky.
Attorneys provide all sorts of advantages but, probably more than anything else, the advantage is that we’ve been to court a million times (okay, I’m exaggerating, but, still, a LOT) to defend against bad agreements. We’ve written all sorts of things into our standard agreements to protect our clients against the bad things we’ve seen happen to people who drafted their own agreements or went to mediators. That’s not to say that you can’t have a perfectly good divorce handled on your own or through a mediator; you certainly can. But the reality is that you have two goals here: (1) to get divorced, and (2) to have a measure of certainty POST divorce about what’s going to happen. (And, of course, part of that whole post divorce thing is that you don’t want to spend a bunch of extra money litigating over things that you thought were already determined.)
Whether you choose to work with an attorney or not is totally up to you – but you should know that it’s possible that you’ll run into trouble later on down the line if you don’t. A signed, written separation agreement is certainly a must, but whether you choose to draft it yourself, use a mediator, or achieve an agreement by some other means (like collaborative divorce), is certainly totally, 100% up to you.
What happens after I have a signed separation agreement? Can I just finish my uncontested divorce myself?
In Virginia, like pretty much everywhere else, you have to have grounds to get divorced. So, once you have a signed separation agreement, you’ll have to wait until you’ve been separated for the statutory period (in Virginia, one year, unless (1) you don’t have any minor children, AND (2) you have a signed separation agreement, in which case you can file for divorce after a six month separation) before you can even file. But, at that point, it’s really just a matter of filing the appropriate paperwork with the court to get an uncontested divorce. You’ll need, among other things, a complaint (if you’re filing), an answer and counterclaim (if he’s filing), a final decree of divorce, a confidential addendum, a child affidavit (if you’ve got minor children), and so on.
Though it’s really just paperwork at this point, there are requirements—and the courts are pretty strict. With final decrees of divorce, especially, the court wants to see specific verbiage in there. It’s not a loosey goosey document at all. It’s specific and succinct. If you can’t draft the final decree in a way that meets the court’s approval, you’ll find your final decree rejected, sometimes more than once. It can be a frustrating process.
So, yes, technically, you can do it yourself. But it’s not without difficulty, even though it’s really just paperwork.
What happens if he refuses to sign a separation agreement?
To get an uncontested divorce, you need a signed separation agreement. And you probably already know that you can’t FORCE him to sign your document. It’s a negotiation and, frankly, it’s optional. Just because he won’t sign doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get a divorce; it just may be a little bit trickier. Without a separation agreement, you’ll have to have a hearing – and that, probably needless to say, is considerably more difficult.
For more information about your uncontested divorce options or what to do if your husband won’t sign a separation agreement, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.