The greatest chess match ever played is said by most experts to be the 1999 game pitting Garry Kasparov against Veselin Topalov. If you worry that a divorce is like a chess match, you may think you need to plan five, or ten, or 20 moves ahead. So, who should make the first move?

When it Come to Divorce, is it Ladies First?

The 2020 movie, “The Queen’s Gambit,” made much of a female chess champion. Traditional good manners dictate “ladies first” in many things, but with divorce, a Virginia man must look out for himself.

He and his lawyer have many reasons to consider filing for divorce strategically, not necessarily first, and not out of politeness. His attorney’s first job is to protect the client, that woebegone Virginia man.

Suppose your wife deserts you so you and your family law attorney rush to file for divorce based on desertion (a fault ground). Your argument may be perfectly correct and true legally, but your wife’s attorney will file for a pendente lite hearing and request spousal support while awaiting the divorce trial.

The judge will be uninterested in your quite reasonable arguments about desertion; the judge wants to maintain the “family unit” in limbo while awaiting the outcome of the fault-grounds divorce trial, so if you’re the breadwinner in the household, you will likely be ordered to pay spousal support and possibly child support if she has the children.

Then the waiting game begins, while the creaky wheels of justice grind down to that Final Decree of Divorce. Meanwhile, you could be paying months of spousal and child support

If, though, you wait her out, separating for six months (no kids) or a year (with kids), you can lay low, stay quiet, and work with your attorney on a strategy and perhaps a separation agreement. You pay nothing out of pocket during the separation period if it remains quiet. Then, whether she or you file a motion for divorce, you can argue your fault-grounds case in court and owe her nothing for the waiting period.

The Exposed King

In chess, an exposed king (you, in this metaphor) cannot shield itself from the other side’s attacks. If you have any reason to be concerned about your wife seeking a divorce on fault grounds (you committed a felony, adultery, and our personal favorite reasons, “sodomy or buggery committed outside the marriage”), then filing first may prevent your initial exposure.

You can ask your attorney to offer reasonable terms that avoid fault grounds and allow for an uncontested divorce, which is a strategy to avoid revealing your own possible fault grounds. Otherwise, your dirty laundry could be aired not only in court, but very much in public.

Your Castle

“Castle” in chess is a verb, not a noun; it means to swap the positions of the rook and king. It is the only move in chess where two pieces can be moved simultaneously.

In Virginia as in all states, a man’s home is his castle, and filing first in divorce may allow you to preserve your castle and other financial assets.

If you suspect your wife could deliberately drain away resources (retirement accounts, savings, stock holdings, a vacation home, and the like) by dragging out a divorce, your attorney may want to file first.

With the filing, your marital property can be legally preserved intact, so that she cannot run up credit card bills and leave you on the hook. She cannot empty your joint savings account. She cannot commit what is ominously but accurately called “marital waste.”


Chess ends in either a win or a draw. That’s it. Within that binary choice are multiple options (checkmate, resignation, or timeout are the three ways to win, for example). Unless you have some overwhelming reason to completely destroy your spouse emotionally, financially, or socially in a divorce, we recommend you avoid putting her in checkmate.

Think about the benefits of bringing your divorce to a draw, which you can do through settlement and negotiation by way of your attorney. Communicate with your spouse; work together to decide who initiates the proceedings. If you and your attorney approach the divorce as a mutually agreeable process, you may find that filing first or reacting to your spouse’s filing does not matter. If you and your family law attorney work openly and honestly with your spouse and her attorney, both sides can “win.”

The Greatest Match Starts with The Firm For Men

Who won that “greatest chess match ever played?” Garry Kasparov beat Veselin Topalov in a 44-move game. Want to feel like a winner with your Virginia family law issue? Whether you are concerned about separation, divorce, or another pressing matter, The Firm For Men is ready to help. Please contact us today or telephone our offices at (757) 383-9184.