We turn today to those noted legal authorities, Monty Python’s Flying Circus1, who have previously explained — in a single three-minute children’s show — how to play the flute, split the atom, construct box girder bridges, and irrigate the Sahara to make vast new areas cultivatable. For many Virginia men, creating a divorce settlement agreement may seem as elusive as those simplified (and highly improbable) directions.
Cardinal Rule #1: Hire an Expert
For some “authorities,” creating a divorce settlement agreement is just a matter of matching the right form to the right words. Plug in this and that, chat a bit with your wife, and poof! you have an agreement.
Sadly, for most Virginia men, instant online agreements are not worth the electrons they’re arranged from, since they fail to take into account all the nuances of your particular case. What if your wife is hostile to your reasonable requests? What if you have complex property issues? What if you cannot agree on child custody, spousal support, or which of you gets the family dog?
Unfortunately, many Virginia men go down the do-it-yourself path with places like WikiHow and then, faced with the reality of a wife with her own attorney, they end up with very little.
If you want to defend your rights, protect your investments, and preserve your financial future, enlist an expert in words; get a family law attorney. That, friends, is Cardinal Rule #1.
Cardinal Rule #2: Engage the Brain
In Virginia, the legal instrument is called a property settlement agreement in Code of Virginia § 20-155, not a divorce settlement agreement, but it does accomplish the task of informing both parties (you and your wife) of how every aspect of the divorce will be handled:
- Property division — real, intellectual, vehicles, intangibles, personal
- Debt division — unsecured and secured debt; student loan obligations; payments into children’s education funds or Trust accounts
- Child custody — physical and legal custody
- Child support — almost completely dictated by Code of Virginia § 20-108.2
- Spousal support — defined amount for a defined duration; lump sum; undefined duration
- Parenting time schedules — including nuances like three-day weekends, school breaks, birthdays, holidays, and special occasions
Leave something out at your peril; your divorce attorney can ensure everything, from future royalties to pension funds, are included in the property settlement agreement.
Sure, the initial agreement may give you summers with your children, but what if you overlooked ownership of the timeshare? Perhaps you locked in shared physical custody, but forgot to work out legal custody, so now you cannot have input into educational, religious or medical decisions.
After the court reporter transcribes your agreement and you and your wife sign, your divorce is done. You have very little recourse if you overlooked something.
This brings us Cardinal Rule #2: Think it through.
Cardinal Rule #3: It’s Business
Despite the emotions that may flow between you and your wife, you need to remember the property settlement agreement is a legally binding contract between you. Treat her not as your wife or almost-ex-wife, but as a vendor, a customer, a client. If you two do not spell out everything in the settlement agreement, you have nowhere to turn when questions arise.
If you and your divorce attorney treat the settlement as a business transaction with your wife and her attorney, you may find that tempers moderate, anger subsides, and communication improves.
Divorce Magazine suggests charting a roadmap through the process:
- Get down the basics (wedding date, date of separation, legal addresses, etc.)
- Fill in the details
- Indicate you both agree to … er … the agreement
- Identify and equitably divide every asset as laid out in Code of Virginia § 20-107.3
- Identify and equitably divide every debt
- Create a parenting plan for child custody and visitation (parenting time)
- Agree on child support
- Agree on spousal support
- Proofread, review for errors, review again for omissions
Diverging from that roadmap will cost both of you time (which costs both of you money), so keep it in front of both of you. Going step by step not only keeps the goal in sight, it helps avoid getting bogged down in trivialities.
Cardinal Rule #4: Preserve Rights
By using a property settlement agreement, you (and your wife), not the Virginia judge, determine how best to divide everything. This gives both of you significant power to safeguard rights. Use that power wisely.
Preserve your rights while also protecting your children’s rights:
- Health insurance for yourself and your children
- Retirement accounts
- Life insurance
- Children’s education funds
- Future royalties from intellectual property, patents, and artistic creations
- Medical and educational decisions about your children
Think not only of yourself; think for your children’s future.
Cardinal Rule #5: Exit Sign
Under Virginia law, a property settlement agreement is optional. You and your attorney can always pursue a contested divorce, so if your wife or her lawyer are putting undue pressure on you to fork over your children, home, ATV, pink Cadillac, retirement fund and your Ariana Grande autograph collection, you do not have to settle for the settlement.
If your wife is sending out a lot of signs of hostility, look for the exit. Have your attorney notify her attorney that, unless she reduces her demands, you will no longer participate in a property settlement agreement and will pursue the contested divorce. That will be more expensive and more time consuming for both of you, but at least you will be able to hold onto your Ariana Grandes.
Call The Only Family Law Firm in Virginia Representing Men Exclusively
Ready to tackle a divorce settlement agreement? Partner with The Firm For Men by calling 757-383-9184 or contact us online. We will be happy to advocate for your rights, from child custody to preserving your future financial security.