You get what you pay for. The old expression works two ways: you have to live with the cheap choice you made, or you can enjoy the benefits of paying for a superior product or service. In Virginia, you do not need to pay for a family law attorney at all in divorce; you can try to go it alone. Your decision to go with no representation, an inexpensive outfit, or a boutique firm matters not at all to the Virginia judge presiding over your case.
The same applies to your ex-wife throughout the process. She gets the legal representation she pays for; one smart move either side can make is to get the other side to pay for that representation. Herein is our free advice, which calls to mind the other saying, “free advice is worth what you pay for it,” but in this case, it really is good advice.
There’s No Legal Requirement to Retain an Attorney in Virginia
Virginia is very flexible in some of its divorce law. You do not have to retain an attorney to proceed with a divorce case. No judge or government official will order you to get an attorney, nor will one be provided for you.
Similarly, no legal requirement exists to compel one party to pay for the other’s legal fees in a divorce. The thinking goes like this:
You chose to divorce. You chose to retain your choice of attorney. By your choice you agreed to that attorney’s fees. These were all your decisions. Compelling the other side to pay for your choices is not right. But …
Getting Her to Agree to Paying Legal Costs: Coaxing, Not Compelling
Assuming you and your ex-wife hired attorneys for the divorce, property settlement agreement, custody and visitation schedules and all the rest, you can emerge from a divorce with a hefty legal bill. You may feel, because of a perceived slight on her part, that your ex-wife should pay the tab for what you went through, so you can ask your attorney to put a clause in the property settlement agreement (or separation agreement, as it is often called).
The art and finesse of getting your ex-wife to absorb your legal costs comes in the wording of the agreement. If you can offer strong reasons why she, not you, should pay for your legal services, you may be able to get her to agree.
You have a good chance of getting at least some of your legal fees paid by her under three circumstances:
- Her attorney and she violated some part of a court order, such as pendente lite relief; the judge will not take kindly to having the order ignored or violated, and could exact payment of your legal fees as punishment to her side for their actions or inactions
- The judge may order fees paid for custody cases if you are acting in good faith on behalf of your children, have little or no financial resources, and are directly involved (as the parent or grandparent, for example)
- With child support cases, the judge may order your ex-wife to pay your legal fees if you take her to court for failure to pay you child support and she can be shown to have willfully withheld such support
Should She Pay if She Was at Fault for the Divorce?
A common misconception in Virginia is that fault grounds for divorce automatically mean the person found at fault foots the bill. This is not the case, again for the reasons outlined earlier (nobody compels you to hire a lawyer).
Your wife could commit adultery, sodomy and buggery within the same hour, giving you plenty of reasons to divorce her (and possibly setting some kind of hideously unpleasant world record), but you do not have to hire a capable law firm to divorce her. You could represent yourself and prove to the court’s satisfaction that she gave you grounds.
An ancient saying in law is that a person acting as his own lawyer has a fool for a client. This is true with divorce. You are emotional, in the midst of heartache, and thinking illogically. If she gave you grounds for divorce, you have even more reason to want to exact revenge. If you are going into a divorce convinced she will pay, you could be disappointed.
Divorce is not about punishment. It is the dissolution of a marriage in a legal way that is as civil and unemotional as our society can provide. That is part of the reason the process seems to drag out, racking up expenses. Separate yourself from the idea of vengeance, and count yourself lucky that you can afford to hire superior legal counsel to get you through all the steps (courtesy of Virginia’s Fairfax County courts) of your contested divorce:
- Bill of Complaint
- Service of Process
- Answer and Cross-Bill
- Pendente Lite hearing
- Final Hearing
Among all those steps, the property settlement agreement is the time for your attorney to press your wife on paying for your legal fees. In return, she may ask that you not contest her full physical and legal custody of your children, as an example.
Your task, and your lawyer’s task, is to make her want to pay your fees, not demand that she does. The property settlement agreement is the best place for you two to put forth your best reasons for her to assume those costs. For strategies, planning and other sound legal moves, consult The Firm for Men’s family lawyers for men, or call our offices at (757) 383-9184.