To speak plainly, the main reason Virginians want to avoid going to court to get a divorce is because of the cost. We get that; we realize attorneys’ time and court fees can add up. The great state of Virginia gets it, too, and provides plenty of free or low-cost advice. Please notice, though, every site, every document and every bit of advice you get will state that it does not replace the professional guidance of a Virginia divorce attorney. For do-it-yourselfers, the law is one area where an attempt at saving money could cost you—big time.
The Virginia Court System is A Wild Maze
The Virginia court system is a bit of a maze. Our state has 31 judicial districts, 120 separate circuit courts, and sometimes more than one circuit court in a county. Every website an amateur divorce sleuth visits will tell you to file “in the county in which you reside,” but if that county has two courts, how do you know?
The safest way to navigate any unfamiliar territory is to hire a guide. By hiring a divorce attorney, you truly do not have to go to court, because your lawyer is, in the slang our office really does not like very much, your mouthpiece. We handle the filings, motions, depositions, and court appearances on your behalf.
Pro Se: Represent Yourself in Divorce Court
Virginia law allows you to represent yourself in any legal proceeding, including divorce; it’s called pro se. It’s a terrible idea. Say you are a shade tree mechanic. Even if you studied at a parent’s elbow growing up, did you replace the timing belt the first time you tinkered on your own? No; you changed the oil, and built up your skills until you could do better than using Vice-Grips for stereo buttons.
If your first legal foray is divorce, you simply cannot afford to get it wrong by trying to represent yourself on the cheap. If your goal, remember, was to avoid court entirely, going pro se will not do. Hire an experienced divorce attorney.
Falsum Cogitandi: Simple is a State of Mind
False thinking—falsum cogitandi—leads you to think your divorce will somehow be simpler by not showing up in court. You may not realize you can streamline a divorce, largely outside of courts, judges, and paper filings, by getting a property settlement agreement, by voluntarily determining child custody (physical and legal) ahead of time, and by going through the six months or year needed to file a “no fault” divorce.
These are complicated steps, any one of which could use a lawyer’s touch. Suppose, for example, in your eagerness to stay out of a courtroom, you sign off on a property settlement agreement drawn up by your wife, and fail to notice she sequestered her retirement accounts, pension, and her jewelry collection from the agreement. You could have had a legal right to half of that.
See You in Court?
Not having a lawyer and not going to court are two different—and mutually exclusive—things. If we agree that not having a lawyer is a bad idea (because you could unknowingly give up your rights) then what will your lawyer do to keep your court time to a minimum, or keep you out of court entirely?
If you hired an attorney to file for divorce, your experienced family lawyer will file the right paperwork in the right court at the right time. Your lawyer will attend every hearing, from a Pendente Lite hearing (litigation is pending) to motions (for spousal support, custody, and property settlement), to the affidavit, to ore tenus (final oral argument).
Speeding Up the Divorce Process
One thing your reluctance to appear in court will not do is speed up the process. After the initial papers are filed and your wife is served notice, she has three weeks to respond. You may have to make at least one appearance in court, and in about a month after that hearing you will have your divorce.
The way around that one court appearance is by affidavit, which the Code of Virginia allows under Section 20-106, but that affidavit has to answer everything the opposing attorney could bring up. This is why having your own attorney is vital: the two attorneys—hers and yours—can work out all the paperwork, affidavits, and agreements ahead of time to ensure a smooth process.
We’re Divorce Lawyers for Men Only
Even if you are determined to handle your divorce with the least amount of interaction with a court or the legal system, please contact The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184. We would be happy to guide you through the specific steps needed for your county or jurisdiction. We would be happier, of course, to represent you to fully protect your rights—even from yourself—throughout a Virginia divorce proceeding. Contact us today—we’re the only family law firm in Virginia representing men only!