All over the internet, lawyers and legal services providers are advertising inexpensive and quick “no fault" divorces. Some promise to get you divorced cheap. Some promise to get you divorced quickly. Some promise to provide you paperwork to file yourself. Before you hand over your hard-earned money or run up your credit card, you should have a clear understanding of what you will get or won't get for your money.
First, what is a “no fault" divorce? Believe it or not, there is no such thing as a “no fault" divorce in Virginia. There is no basis for divorce in Virginia for "irreconcilable difference between the spouses" or "irretrevably broken down marriages." The Code of Virginia makes no reference to a “no fault" divorce. What people usually mean when they say “no fault" divorce is getting a divorce based on Section 20-91 of the Code of Virginia, which allows a Court to grant a divorce “if and when the husband and wife have lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year." With no minor children and an agreement on all issues, the separation period is only six months. So really, you are not getting a “no fault" divorce. You are getting a divorce based on living separate and apart for the required time period.
What about fault grounds? Even if you want to get divorced based on living separate and apart, you should have an understanding of how a fault-based divorce may be beneficial to you. Sometimes it really is beneficial. For this reason alone, make sure that part of the money you pay for a “no fault" divorce includes an attorney explaining to you the pros and cons of filing on fault-based grounds. In Virginia, only an attorney can give you legal advice. Do not accept legal advice from a non-attorney.
What do you really want? Most people don't want just a Final Decree of Divorce. They really want to legally tie up loose ends with their spouse so that they can move on with their lives. Real estate, property, assets, taxes, debts, bank accounts, life insurance, health insurance, retirement, pensions, spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation, and tax dependency exemption issues all need to be resolved. If you do not resolve the issues during your “no fault" divorce, the law may prevent you from resolving them in the future.
This is where we distinguish between cost-effective divorces and cheap divorces. A cost-effective divorce ensures that no money is wasted but allows you – the client – to have your rights fully protected. A cheap divorce costs little but can leave you - the client - with unresolved issues that can cost you substantially more money in the future. The cost of resolving issues now will pale in comparison to trying to fix the problems later. Do it right the first time.
Remember that every case is different. If your “no fault" divorce representative is not able or willing to discuss all of the facts and circumstances of your case, you will be taking a major risk engaging that company's services to initialize and finalize a divorce.
Is a "no fault" divorce an "uncontested divorce"? No. Many people confuse a “no fault" divorce with an "uncontested divorce". The two are not the same. Many spouses have long, expensive legal battles where the basis for the divorce is that they have lived separate and apart for one year. If your spouse does not agree to endorse all paperwork that your attorney provides, it is not an uncontested divorce. Make sure that you understand whether your “no fault" divorce provider has the experience to finalize your matter if your spouse becomes uncooperative. Many do not. If they do have the expertise to finalize the divorce should it become contested, find out what the cost will be. Spouses do become uncooperative – often.
What about the companies that provide the paperwork only for divorce? In our experience, divorcing parties have had very little success getting divorced using online companies that provide generic forms. The forms are a small part of the process. It is the knowledge of how to use the forms to get divorced that needs to be provided. The laws in Virginia are the same in every Court; however, Clerk's Offices and Judges all do things differently in every city/county. There are local rules that you need to know in order to be successful. If you do not know how to communicate with the Clerk and the Judges and how modify the forms to meet their specific requirements, you will be stuck. The Clerks will not give legal advice. They cannot. We are often hired by clients to finalize a divorce that began with generic internet forms and no legal advice. 99% of the time, the most cost-effective option is to dismiss the case and start again. This causes a substantial increase to the cost of the divorce.
Hopefully, this article has given you enough information to at least ask the right questions when you interview people or companies to help you with your divorce. If we, at Friedman Law Firm, P.C., in Virginia, can be of more assistance, please feel free to contact us.
Very truly yours,
Rick A. Friedman, II
Friedman Law Firm, P.C.