Starting the Divorce Process
Do you remember Driver’s Ed in High School? Do you remember sitting in the driver’s seat for the first time with the instructor by your side? I can remember the instructor telling me to put my foot on the break, put the gear in reverse, then take my foot off the break “slowly” – and then, and only then – push the gas peddle ever so gently.
I have often thought about this. In particular, I was always curious why the instructor was so nervous about pushing the gas peddle too quickly while the car was in reverse. If you think about it, my instructor was right to be concerned. I am sure there were many students who pushed the accelerator too hard that first time and jumped the car into reverse. When that happened, physics took over and the driver’s body was thrown forward – which in turn – only put more pressure on the gas peddle – which in turn only jumped the car more rapidly in an uncontrollable way in the opposite direction…backwards.
A fragile human being contemplating divorce not only needs to learn how to put a marriage in reverse…she first needs to figure out how to pull the car to stop and get off the unhappy highway in which she has been speeding down in the same “drive gear” and same direction for years on end.
So how do you initiate the divorce process and “slowly” put your marriage in reverse?
Most clients I meet begin doing some research on-line. They search keywords like “Divorce” and “Child Custody” – and sometimes place their state of residence in the search engine. Unfortunately, they then find a list of attorney websites that talk all about the attorney – and not enough about the process. They are then left scheduling a consultation with an attorney where they then explain their story to an “expert” for about 40 minutes – and then the attorney gives them a quick couple of strategies on how they can proceed. They then leave the office – and they often still have no idea how the process is initiated.
First – a Divorce action is filed in State Court by one spouse against another. The person filing for divorce is the “Plaintiff” and the other Spouse is then naturally the “Defendant”. In Virginia, an attorney typically files a “Complaint for Divorce” in the Circuit Court in the City where the couple last lived as husband and wife – and where one of the parties has lived for six months preceding the suit. Sometimes this part gets complicated with military families who move around a bit. It doesn’t really matter who is the Plaintiff and who is the Defendant – as long as both parties follow the procedural rules with regards to initiating the Complaint. In Virginia, the Defendant then has 21 days to file an “Answer” to the “Complaint.”
Without getting too complicated, one spouse alleges grievances against the other. The other spouse then answers and denies the allegations – and that spouse also files grievances against the initiating spouse.
In Virginia, we have fault based grounds (Adultery, Cruelty, Desertion) and we also have what is called “No-Fault Divorce.” No-Fault divorce simply requires a separation period prior to initiating the divorce action.
We’ll talk about fault-based grounds and no-fault divorces in later blog posts. Suffice it to say, an attorney can – and should – walk you through every procedural requirement in any divorce case. During an initial consultation, do not be hesitant to ask the hard questions. The attorney should be prepared to answer these questions about the process, and more importantly, be prepared to guide you through that process. The next blog post will talk about choosing an attorney and the top 5 questions you should ask during your consultation.
Most important in all of this, isn’t the legal stuff. It’s being emotionally ready to pull off the unhappy highway, put the marriage in reverse, and gently press the accelerator.
There are very specific rules governing divorce in Virginia. At Hofheimer Family Law Firm we are committed to providing you with the experience and compassion you deserve and the successful results you need to move on with your life. Request a FREE copy of our divorce guide for women in Virginia, or reserve your seat at our monthly divorce seminar – 757-425-5200.