It has been said that “Free advice is worth the price.” Is a free divorce possible? If so, is it worth the money you (don’t) pay for it?
What Kind of Virginia Divorce Did You Want?
Virginia recognizes two levels of divorce:
- Divorce from bed and board
- Divorce from the bond of matrimony, or absolute divorce
Divorce from bed and board means you are legally separated from the proverbial comforts of home: i.e., your bed in which to sleep (and engage in conjugal activities), and your board, or meals.
Under Code of Virginia § 20-116 a divorce from bed and board means the courts “decree that the parties be perpetually separated and protected in their persons and property.” It is an easy and fast first step toward divorce from matrimony.
Divorce from bed and bed requires a reason, listed in § 20-95:
- reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt
- willful desertion or abandonment
This makes your spouse out to look fairly awful, but it really does speed up the whole process. One small hiccup with divorce from bed and board: until you are granted an absolute divorce, neither of you can remarry.
The other divorce, from the bond of matrimony, is what most Virginians think of as a true divorce. You divide assets and debts; you determine child custody and support. With divorce from the bonds of matrimony under Code of Virginia § 20-91, you have to then decide between fault and no-fault divorce:
- Fault grounds include adultery, sodomy or buggery committed outside the marriage, felony conviction with a minimum one-year jail sentence, cruelty, reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, or willful desertion or abandonment.
- A no-fault divorce means neither party agrees to behaving badly; the marriage just lost steam, so to speak. Live apart in Virginia for six months (without children) or a year (with children), make no arguments about property and custody and whatnot, and you can be divorced within a few months after the waiting period.
If either party wants to contest the divorce, you can forget about paying nothing. You will likely both pay for legal representation.
Do You Really Want to Pay Nothing?
If your maximum price you are willing to pay is literally $0, you can start with VA Legal Aid, which offers a No-Fault Divorce program for free. It begins with an online interview to see if you really can pursue the free divorce.
In addition to the interactive feature, VA Legal Aid also provides a helpful guide to filing a no-fault divorce, but don’t expect it to be comprehensive. VA Legal Aid is ideal for Virginians who have limited financial resources, but it is not intended to replace the wisdom and experience of Virginia family law attorneys.
Virginia divorces are handled through the Circuit Court system. If you are truly indigent, you can file form CC-1414 Petition for Proceeding in Civil Case 11-06, which asks the court to waive all court fees and costs in a no-fault divorce. The threshold for this petition is receipt of public assistance.
More information about both services (the online interview and the Circuit Court system) is available through the Norfolk Circuit Court under its “Do It Yourself Divorce” page.
How Picky Should You Be?
If you are hoping for a free divorce because you have no financial means to afford an attorney, you do have options. They are not great, they are not of very high quality, but they are serviceable ways to get divorced for (almost) nothing.
If, though, you are hoping for a free divorce just to save a buck, you may want to reconsider the value you place on your marriage and freedom. If you have the means to afford an attorney and court fees, hiring a professional lawyer specializing in family law is the proven path.
We do not say this to denigrate the online interview process or the Circuit Court. We also do not say this because we, of course, are Virginia family lawyers. We have seen far too many people who hang their futures on “online divorce in minutes” clickbait and pay severely for their mistakes.
Be picky. Be choosy. The decisions you make in seeking a free divorce in Virginia will have repurcussions through your retirement years, which may be decades away. Saving money on a free divorce or by using online divorce forms could come back to haunt you when substantial portions of your retirement pension, real estate holdings, or investments are transferred to your spouse.
When you want strong legal representation, you want The Firm For Men. True, we do not come free, but isn’t your future worth your investment in a great legal team? Contact us online or telephone our office at 757-383-9184. We are ready and waiting to go to work for you, Virginia’s men, in all aspects of Virginia family law.