We don’t have a lot of space here to fuss around, so let’s get right to it: you can ruin a straight and clean path to divorce by ignoring the fine points of a separation agreement, leaving you and your wife in the weeds of incrimination, indecision, and accusation. Please consider these seven To-Dos and five Don’ts as you set about drafting your separation agreement.
Separation Agreement To-Do
- Enlist a Real Virginia Attorney — As in, go out and hire a Virginia family law attorney. Do not click on some paper-generating website or recruit your buddy at the bar (“I had two months of — hiccup! — pre-law in college.”) to draft the separation agreement. What looks like boilerplate banter to the untrained eye is legally binding wording in a real property settlement agreement (also called a separation agreement). You and your wife, pleasant people that you are, are not trained legal experts. No one-size-fits-all website that spits out “legal documents” is up to the task of meeting all your unique needs. No amateur lawyer (“I got divorced. It’s easy; I gave her everything.”) is as good as a real attorney.
- Include the Dark Side — Your marriage may have had great qualities, but something made it strain and snap. A leading cause of divorce, says money guru Dave Ramsey, is financial difficulty. If debt brought your marriage to its knees, you need to spell out responsibility for the accumulated debt in your separation agreement. Make her pay for the debts she incurred, and step up and pay your own debts yourself.
- Separate the Cushions — We don’t mean couch cushions (though we’ll get to those), we mean retirement cushions. Spell out who gets what from the retirement accounts, and when. A handy way to view the “equitable division” is proportionally, based on contributions if your two incomes were co-mingled. You gave 60 percent; she gave 40 percent. So you take out 60 percent of the current value; she takes out 40 percent of the current value.
- Turn Your Head and Cough — What about health insurance, medical bills, and future doctors’ visits for the children? Spell out whose insurance will continue to be in force, and who is responsible for future payments.
- Waivers — Perhaps your marriage endured long enough that family members included both of you in wills. Waivers of inheritance can keep future claims against estates clean and clear.
- Deeds — The specific name of Virginia’s instrument to get divorce started is not a “separation” agreement; it is a “property settlement” agreement. You are separating property, including real estate, which means you need to spell out details of whose names are on which deeds (not forgetting first home, vacation home, and time share). You need to know what you get to keep after the divorce is final.
- Separate the Couch Cushions — For many couples, the details of property division become heavy weights around their necks. You may want to get out from under the marriage, but you need to decide who gets the couch, who gets the easy chair, the silverware and place settings, the black velvet Elvis paintings and on and on. Spell everything out in the separation agreement so no vindictive wiggle room remains. You would be surprised at some of the underhanded tactics vengeful ex-wives take with easily destroyed items like golf clubs, ATVs, and business suits.
Separation Agreement To-Don’ts
- Do It Yourself — Virginia’s Circuit Courts will accept a separation agreement drafted by the couple separating. It is a terrible idea, but Circuit Court judge is under no obligation to provide free legal advice to you both. Couples who think they are saving money by writing their own agreement often give away fortunes in missed opportunities, and often they do not even know it.
- Sign Away Rights — Pain is temporary; divorce is final. Do not become exhausted and despondent, so weakened you sign away rights to valuable assets simply so you can be over and done with the marriage. Let your lawyer keep an eagle eye open for any attempts to weaken your position or diminish your rights now or in the future.
- Take On Too Much — While paying for your children’s educations after secondary school is an admirable goal, it is not a legal requirement of parenting. Why take on more than your legal responsibilities by including things in the separation agreement that are not, legally, your obligations? Here’s what we mean: “Dad shall pay for two years of college for each child issuing from the marriage.” “Within one month of the 17th birthday of each child issuing from the marriage, Dad shall purchase that child a used car not more than two years old and with fewer than 20,000 miles at the time of purchase.” Janey wants to attend community college; Janey gets student loans. Junior wants a car; let Junior get a job.
- Be Vague — What is reasonable parenting time? Is it one hour a month, or two weekends a month? What is an appropriate school for your spouse to learn a marketable skill? If you do not spell out all the details, your wife’s attorney will thread a herd of camels through the needle’s eye opening you left. Child visitation can be a rigorous schedule with every holiday accounted for, or it can be a free-flowing mess. Spousal support can be contingent on your wife going to an accredited school to learn a skill, or it can be left vague, meaning you cover her costs of attending worthless trade schools and she never gets a real job.
- Accuse — A separation agreement is not the proper venue to air your dirty laundry and swap accusations. If she was unfaithful, you have no need to get a confession out of her and enter it into the agreement. You and your lawyer can handle that in other ways, including seeking a fault ground for divorce. If you have a drinking problem, you do not need to include a commitment to attending AA meetings as part of the property settlement; she cannot use the legally binding agreement to blackmail you (agreements that include illegal acts are automatically vacated).
Separation Agreement Lawyers for Men
With a call to 757-383-9184, or an online contact, you can reach real Virginia lawyers who can prepare real property settlement agreements. No wheezy website weirdness for you! No back-of-the-envelope, “let’s just work it out” nonsense for you! Get the very best legal help from attorneys dedicated to protecting your rights as a Virginia man. Let The Firm For Men check off all the “To-Dos” and avoid all the “To-Don’ts” on your list.