Whenever I talk to a woman about her marriage and possible divorce, even though the circumstances are always a little bit different, I know that the real question, deep at the root of it all, is, “What on earth should I do?”
It’s a big question and, as you probably already guessed, I don’t have one, generic, ready made answer to give. It’s a complicated question that relates to hundreds of different interrelated facts, all unique to that particular woman.
“What should I do?” is an all encompassing question that deals with everything from where you should live, whether you should go back to work (or take on more hours, or cut hours, or quit your job, or go back to school), how you should think about parenting your children, what financial decisions you should be making, and lots more. If you stop to think about all the things in your life that are distinctly and dramatically affected by divorce, you start to realize what a momentous question “What do I do now?” is.
Of course, at the same time, it’s the only question. Everything else is secondary compared to this question, and you need an answer before you can begin to make choices for yourself and your family. Before you can even think about moving forward, you need to have a plan and, at the end of the day, it all comes back to this.
What on earth do I do now? What should I do? What might I miss? What choices will make my life easier and, also, which choices will make my life harder? How do I make more of the choices that will help me later on down the road, and how do I avoid the ones that will only make this tangled mess worse? It’s legitimate. It’s a real question. But it’s also THE question. The elusive question. Frankly, the question that I am always trying to help my clients answer.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Can you handle it? Okay, well, here goes. The truth is… I don’t have all the answers. No lawyer does. Because your divorce is bigger than where you’ll live, who’ll keep the kids, and how your retirement account will be divided. Those questions, huge as they are, don’t even come close to addressing the intangible issues that divorce raises.
These questions, the “Who am I?” and “What do I want out of life?” questions are the ones that, really, only you can answer. I can talk to you, try to figure out what your priorities are, and help you come up with solutions that take into account who you are, what you want out of life, and how you plan to get there—but you’ll have to help me to start.
Each client who comes into our office has a different set of priorities. They want different things. They all want to be in different places at the end of this process. They want many of the same things, of course—a safe place to live, their basic needs met, the freedom to make the types of choices for themselves that they believe are important—but they want different, specific, unique things, too.
I’m getting a divorce. What should my first steps be?
Let’s start from here. We can talk about big picture and your specific goals a little bit later. I’m getting there.
If I were you, my first step would be to request a copy of our book (actually, my book, if we’re getting technical here; a little shameless self promotion) “The Woman’s Guide to Selecting an Outstanding Divorce and Custody Lawyer.”
The title may be a bit misleading. The book will certainly help you make sure that you find (and hire) the right attorney, if that happens to be your goal, but it’ll also educate you about your options when it comes to Virginia divorce. If you want to hire an attorney (and, honestly, most people do—hence the reason for the book being written at all), it’ll give you some guidelines and pointers so that you can ask the right questions and, ultimately, find the right person to represent you.
If you don’t want to hire an attorney, though, the book will also speak to you. I know that it’s not possible for everyone to afford to work with an attorney. And, these days, there are very few pro bono divorce services out there to help Virginia women who don’t have the resources to pay an attorney to represent them.
The book is free, though, and will give you lots of pointers for figuring out whether you want to hire an attorney (and, of course, if so, then whom). It’ll help you determine the difference between what sites are there to help you, and which are just places where lawyers pay to have their ads show up when you perform a search. Sites that are growing in popularity, like Avvo, often aren’t as helpful as they may seem. How does a normal person (you know, someone who isn’t a lawyer) tell the difference between the helpful information and just noise? It can be difficult.
The good news? The book is free, and we’ll send you an electronic version immediately after you fill out the form on our site requesting it. If you live in our immediate geographic area, we’ll also send you a hard copy if you fill in the form we email you. (Don’t worry; when we send books, we send them in plain white packaging. No one will know what’s inside.) Then, you’ll also receive access to our e-course, which you’ll receive through email, full of tons of tips and tricks designed to help you as you begin this process.
Okay, I got a copy of your book. Now what?
I think a great second step is to attend one of our monthly divorce seminars. We affectionately call them Second Saturday, because that’s when we teach them. On the Second Saturday of the month, we teach a seminar, “What Every Virginia Woman Should Know About Divorce,” in both Virginia Beach and Newport News. Then, we teach it again on the Third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach.
The seminars are a great way to get general divorce information directly from a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney. You can even ask your questions (as long as they’re general and not too personal) directly to the attorney, and get them answered on the spot.
The cost to attend the seminar is just $40 if you pre register, and $50 if you pay at the door. It’s definitely one of the quickest and easiest ways to get up to date, Virginia specific divorce information directly from a licensed Virginia attorney (with experience representing women only). Nowhere else can you get that kind of information directly from an attorney without paying a consultation fee first!
What will you learn at Second Saturday? All sorts of things, including:
• What types of divorce exist in Virginia and how they work;
• How to file for divorce;
• What different grounds for divorce are in Virginia;
• How child custody, support, and visitation are determined;
• How spousal support is calculated (and whether you might expect to receive it);
• Whether you can handle your divorce on your own, without hiring an attorney;
• What equitable distribution is and how property is divided in Virginia; and
• Much more!
Second Saturday is a great introduction to the divorce process, the laws, and procedurally how Virginia works.
Okay, I got a book, and now I’ve been to the seminar. What should I do next?
By now, you should have a pretty good idea about your options in Virginia and what you plan to do. Now it’s probably a good time to start thinking about talking to an attorney one on one about your vision for the future and how you think you want to move forward.
Now is the time when it’s appropriate to start having the “what should I do?” conversation. Now that you have some idea about the options available to you, and you’re ready to start making decisions about the future.
Of course, if you met with me, I’d also need to know a little more about you. The property you own, your retirement accounts, your plans with respect to your children and co parenting after divorce, and more. Really, almost everything is relevant here—but particularly everything that relates to your finances and your future as a family. I need to know what’s there to be divided, what’s yours separately, and what your professional options are. We need to start thinking about support, if you might receive it, and how retirement will be divided. What’s yours, what’s his, and what’s “ours” together; it’s all important.
We’ll also talk about those intangibles. What’s important to you, who you are, what you want out of the process, and what your vision is for the future, so that, together, we can start to make a plan that allows you to get the fresh start you envision.
Like I said, I don’t just have an automatic reply when someone asks me what they should do—but I do know what steps they should start taking so that they can begin to formulate a plan and so that, very soon, the two of us can really sit down and have an open, honest discussion about a plan for the future. The best lawyers out there will want to have that conversation with you, and will want to make you feel like your divorce is unique, that it presents its own specific issues, and that we (you and the attorney you hire) have goals to meet together.
“What should I do?” is a big question, but it’s definitely one that you’re right to be asking. It’s also one that you’re right to discuss with your attorney, because your attorney has a big role in negotiating and litigating your case so that you get the results that you envision. We have to work together to get the happiest, most successful divorce possible.
For more information, to get a free copy of my book, or to register to attend one of our Second Saturday seminars, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200