Virginia Annulment and Divorce Options

It’s only in the movies that people dramatically break up before the wedding.  Or, at least, that’s what it seems like to me.  As many weddings as I’ve been to (and been in!), no one has broken up at the altar.  Of all the people I know, only one has even broken a serious engagement.  It’s really not all that common.

For a lot of reasons, I’m sure, but I suspect most of it has to do with pride—who wants to admit to all their family and friends that they were wrong?  After making a fuss and announcing an engagement, who wants to take it all back quite so publicly?  Once invitations have gone out (the one case I know of where an engagement was called of invitations hadn’t gone out yet), it’s even more difficult to change your mind.  Once the presents start arriving?  Not even a possibility, as far as most people are concerned.  By that point, especially since they’ve paid so many deposits and planned a honeymoon, cancelling the wedding isn’t even a possibility—even if they’d like to.

Did you know your wedding was a mistake before you walked down the aisle?  A lot of my clients say that to me.  They loved their husband, and they hoped for the best, but, on the day of the wedding, they knew, deep down, that they were making a mistake.  Many of them have told me that they only went through with it because they felt like they had to, because it would be embarrassing to cancel, or because they thought it was just cold feet.   So, they go through with it.  They get married, even though they suspect that they are making the wrong choice.  They get married, and then they’re unhappy later.  Usually, much later—it’s not like these things unravel in a couple of days or weeks.

My marriage isn’t working out.  Can I get an annulment instead of a divorce?

Sometimes things happen fast, too, and, when they do, these people tend to call in and ask me about annulment.  I get their thinking, because it’s reinforced through media and popular culture: if they knew it was a mistake and if things ended quickly, an annulment will be the way to go. Most of the time, that’s not the case.  Annulments, in Virginia at least, are incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to get.  That’s both good and bad—bad because some of the women I speak with are very fixated on the idea of an annulment, and good because, in an annulment, there’s no provision for dividing any of the marital assets and liabilities.  A divorce is the process through which everything is divided.  Since, in an annulment, you’re asserting that a valid marriage never actually took place, you can’t then ask the court to divide the things you acquired.  If there’s no marriage, then there’s no divorce.  It seems obvious, but it’s actually pretty common that people don’t think it all the way through.  Either there was a marriage, or there wasn’t—and, if there wasn’t, you and your ex “husband” (I use quotes because getting an annulment means that he was never your husband) don’t have anything to divide.  I guess, technically, that reduces your relationship to that of girlfriend and boyfriend, so each takes out of the relationship the things they brought in.  No court will intervene to help make sure that you’re both provided for in the break up. For more information about annulment, or to find out whether you qualify, click here.

Keep in mind, though, that annulments are very rare.  Don’t get your heart set on getting an annulment, because, more than likely, you’ll find yourself getting a divorce instead. But that’s not bad!  Of course, it’s probably not the situation in which you ever dreamed of finding yourself, but, that being said, there are a lot of protections built into the law for married people.

No one who gets an annulment will get a piece of their “husband’s” retirement or get spousal support.  There’s no help dividing marital assets, either, so anything that you may have purchased together—cars, houses, or personal property—will have to be divided by you without any help from the law.  Boyfriends and girlfriends aren’t subject to any kind of legal protections.

I never thought I’d get a divorce.  Where should I start?

If you were hoping for an annulment, only to find out that you don’t qualify to get one, you’re probably feeling a little bit lost.  It’s okay to take some time to wrap your head around things; in fact, it’s perfectly normal.   It’s a good idea to begin your first steps before you take them.  It’s like New Year’s Resolutions.  You don’t just start out the year eating carrot sticks; you make a plan to lose 10 pounds, and THEN you start eating carrot sticks.  You articulate a specific, measurable, concrete goal, and then, moving backwards, you figure out the steps you’ll need to take to get yourself there.

So, take a few moments (or a few days, or weeks, or months—whatever it takes) to figure out where you want to be, and then take a few steps backwards to figure out how to get yourself there.   A good first step for any Virginia woman facing a divorce is to request a free copy of one of our divorce books.  If you’re military or retired military, you should request a copy of our military divorce book, “What Every Virginia Military Wife Needs to Know About Divorce.”  Anyone else should request a copy of our divorce book, “What Every Virginia Woman Should Know About Divorce.”

They’re free, and written for you by our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys.  Each book contains lots of up to date, Virginia specific information so that you can begin exploring your options.  Not only that, but, once you sign up to receive a copy (don’t worry, we’ll never share your information with anyone, and we’ll send you your book first in an electronic version and then, if you live in our immediate geographic area, we’ll send a physical copy—but in a plain, white, unmarked envelope) you’ll be asked whether you’d like to participate in our divorce e-course!  It’s a great way to learn about how the law in Virginia works—again, all created for you by one of our attorneys.

I got a copy of the free book, but I still don’t know what to do.  Where can I get quick and inexpensive legal advice?

After you’ve got a copy of the divorce book that applies to your situation, you should consider attending one of our monthly divorce seminars.  Each seminar on “What Every Virginia Woman Should Know About Divorce” is taught by one of our attorneys, so you’ll have a chance to ask your questions. We teach the seminars twice a month, on the Second Saturday of the month in both Virginia Beach and Newport News, and on the Third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach.  The cost to attend is only $40 if you pre-register and $50 if you pay at the door, and you can be sure that you’re getting information from a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce attorney representing women only.

I got a copy of the free divorce book, and I’ve attended a seminar.  What should I do next?

Once you’ve gotten a copy of the book and attended a seminar, you’re probably ready to start making decisions about how to move your case forward.  You probably already know, but there are essentially two different ways you can get divorced: either in court (a contested divorce), or with a separation agreement (an uncontested divorce).

Contested Divorce: Fault or No Fault Based

A contested divorce can be either based on fault (adultery, sodomy, buggery, cruelty, apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion, abandonment, or felony conviction), or no fault.  Contested essentially means that you couldn’t agree about how to divide everything, so you had to let a judge decide.  A fault based divorce is always contested because you have to prove that your fault based grounds exist to the satisfaction of the judge (there are civil and criminal penalties for finding that fault exists); a no fault divorce is contested if, even though you don’t have or decide not to move forward on fault based grounds, you still can’t reach an agreement about how your assets and liabilities will be divided. A contested divorce will be the most expensive and time consuming, because it isn’t easy to get your case all the way to trial.

You’ll have to go through different procedural steps first: settlement conferences, proffers, mediation, etc.  You’ll also have to conduct discovery, prepare witnesses, evidence, and exhibits, and your attorney will have to prepare his or her case (opening and closing arguments, questions for witnesses on direct and cross examination, etc).  It’s pretty involved.

Uncontested Divorce: No Fault Based

An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, is always no fault.  You can’t have an uncontested fault based divorce because, like I mentioned earlier, you have to prove fault to the satisfaction of a judge.  There’s no such thing as a signed separation agreement where you agree that you’ll get a divorce using adultery as your grounds. An uncontested no fault divorce is one that is handled through a separation agreement.  A separation agreement is a legal contract where you divide all of your assets and liabilities from the marriage.  The two of you reach an agreement, sign it, and then move forward with your divorce. There are a number of different ways you can get a separation agreement in place, and this is where attorneys start talking about different “types” of divorce.

Really, as far as types go, there are only two: either you get divorced in court, or you negotiate a separation agreement.  But, when you start talking about separation agreements, there are a number of different ways you can get one in place. You can negotiate a separation agreement with attorneys on both sides.  We usually call this negotiation.  You can also get a separation in place by using a mediator which, obviously, we call mediation.  You can also go through the collaborative process , which is called collaboration.  If you want to do it on your own, without an attorney or mediator, you can do that, too.  For more information about do it yourself divorce, or to request a free copy of our report, “Why DIY: The Advantages and Disadvantages of do it yourself Divorce” click here.   I’m ready to talk to a divorce attorney one on one.  Can I call your office? Now that you’ve gotten all the information you’ll need, it’s time to schedule an appointment.  You don’t have to use an attorney, but I do recommend that you at least talk to one to make sure you know that your rights are under Virginia law.  For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.

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