Deciding whether to save or end your marriage
You’re making a lot of decisions right now, and these decisions can have far-reaching implications for you and your family. You’re right to take your time, think carefully, and weigh the pros and cons of each possible course of action.
At this point, you’re in the information-gathering phase. You need to figure out what is involved in all of the options that are available to you so that you can make the best possible decision. Basically, you need to figure out what happens if you: stay married, separate, or divorce.
If you’re still at the point where you’re considering saving your marriage, you probably need some help. Obviously, there are some problems in your marriage, or you wouldn’t be here. That doesn’t mean that your marriage can’t be saved. In fact, in a lot of situations (even situations that seem really bad at the beginning), it is possible to save the marriage–especially if both people are committed to it. But you’ll probably need a little extra help.
Sometimes, just talking to each other isn’t enough. You need help making the types of changes that are necessary to really change and improve your marriage. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. In cases where we’ve seen marriages saved, our clients have done a couple of key things.
1. Talk with a therapist
Whatever the issues are in your marriage, having someone that you can talk openly and honestly with can make all the difference. A therapist can help you manage your expectations, find better ways to communicate, or learn how to effectively handle your feelings. In cases where there has been some traumatic event, like an affair or the death of a close loved one, that is causing friction in a marriage, the help of a trained professional can help spouses learn to cope with reality and move forward productively.
You can attend therapy individually, or together – it’s entirely up to you. If one of you is suffering from a particular issue, like addiction (of whatever type – substance abuse, gambling, sex, etc.) you can also find a counselor with experience dealing with that particular issue in an attempt to get both of you what you need to salvage your marriage.
2. Meet with a marriage counselor
Marriage counseling is the traditional solution for spouses whose marriages are in a difficult place, but there’s good reason for it. In many of the cases we’ve seen where reconciliation happens (and is successful), the parties have attended and participated consistently in a marriage counseling program.
Hey, we’re all for happy marriages. But we also feel like there’s no reward for remaining in an unhappy, unfulfilling, or abusive marriage just to say you stuck it out. It’s not even better for the kids, in most cases (another subject that might be worth exploring with your therapist) just to stay married for their sake. Regardless of the choice you ultimately make – which we’re here for, by the way – you should make sure you’re familiar with your rights and entitlements under Virginia law, so you fully understand the choice you’re making. Don’t let a fear of the unknown keep you in a bad situation!
If you’re considering getting a divorce, separation is the first step. In Virginia, you have to be separated before you can get divorced, but being separated doesn’t mean that you have to get divorced. Sometimes, couples separate for a little while, work on their marriage, and then reconcile later on. In other situations, the separation is permanent, and husband and wife eventually start to move forward with the divorce.
There’s really no right or wrong. Some people move forward more quickly than others; others ultimately reconcile. There is a difference, though, between being separated and hoping to reconcile and a legal separation, though.
In Virginia, there are no forms to sign, nothing to file with the court, and nothing specific to do to declare that you and your husband have legally separated. You are legally separated when two things occur: one of you forms the intent to end the marriage or you stop cohabitating.
Before you decide to separate, it’s a good idea to attend one of our monthly divorce seminars, or talk to an attorney one on one to get an idea of what to expect in the divorce process, and how to make sure that you can prove to the court that you’ve been separated–especially if you plan to separate and still live in the same house.
Once you’ve formed the decision to end your marriage, what you need to do is to make sure that you know what your options are, so that you can be sure to make the best choices possible to protect yourself, your assets, and your family.
It can be a scary process, but that’s why it’s so important to be informed. When you know what to expect, it’s easier to make the kinds of choices you need to make.
Hiring an attorney
While in Virginia you CAN represent yourself in a divorce or custody case, it’s generally not advisable. The law is complex, constantly changing, and different from locality to locality.
Our biggest fear is that a woman could represent herself to her own detriment – drafting an agreement that is worse than what her husband’s attorney would draft or making extremely costly mistakes in court (missing deadlines, failing to follow local court rules, not drafting pleadings properly).
Did you think it was a big deal when you bought a house or a car? You probably did. But just think: divorce is about dividing up ALL of your assets, your house and car, but also your retirement accounts and investments, your bank accounts, your personal property – and even things that you can’t put a price tag on, like custody, visitation, and child support. Not to mention spousal support!
A mistake where, say, a retirement account is concerned can cost you easily in the tens of thousands of dollars or more. Not only that, but a mistake in drafting an agreement – say, where the agreement is ambiguous or unclear – could cost you money even after your divorce is finalized, if you and your husband don’t agree on what you originally intended.
There are alternatives to a traditional attorney/client relationship, though, if you don’t want or can’t afford to hire an attorney. (Although, this does also beg the question: can you afford NOT to hire an attorney?)
Most women choose to hire an attorney to represent them in their divorces, because they want to be sure that someone who knows about the law is looking out for their best interests. Regardless of whether your divorce is negotiated between you and your husband (and possibly your husband’s attorney), or whether it plays out in the courtroom, an experienced divorce attorney can help ensure that you get the best result possible.
When you mediate a divorce, you and your husband share a mediator. It is his (or her) job to help you reach an agreement. It’s not his (or her) job to tell you what your legal rights are, whether you could get more, or if your agreement is a good one.
For this reason, we recommend that women who are interested in moving forward with a mediated divorce meet with an attorney at least twice, once before mediation, and once after mediation. Before mediation, the attorney can help you figure out what your legal rights are, and what an acceptable range of solutions might look like, so you don’t go in completely blind. After mediation, the attorney can help you review your agreement to make sure that it really protects you. Mediators usually aren’t attorneys; don’t take the risk! Make sure you double check before you sign anything, because you won’t be able to un-sign the agreement later, even if it turns out to have been really bad for you.
You’ll want someone in your corner helping you to make sure that the agreement covers you, both now and in the future.
In a collaborative divorce, you and your husband both retain collaboratively trained attorneys to work with you and a team of other professionals to help you reach an agreement. Your team of professionals includes two divorce coaches (one each for you and your husband), a financial specialist, and a child specialist. You make a pledge to work together and not to go to court in order to reach the best agreement possible.
If you still want more, or you’re ready to take the next step, consider attending one of our divorce seminars. We teach them live on Zoom on the second Saturday and the third Tuesday of each month. 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.
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) 703-1386.