Virginia’s yellow sac spider1 is unfairly maligned. Contrary to myth, it does not have dangerously toxic venom. Many Virginians think otherwise, and mistakenly squash them. Mistakes are common, often propelled by popular myth. For example, the laws of Virginia allow you to divorce your wife after being separated for six months if you have no children — that is just fact. (Never take a lunch counter lawyer’s word for it — look it up yourself in the Code of Virginia2.) Yet many people think they can speed the process along by handling their own separation. With that in mind, here are six mistakes to avoid like Virginia’s black widow spider when it comes to separating in Virginia.
1. Not Knowing the Difference between Property and Separation
To begin, you both have to agree on what you are agreeing on — are you determining property settlement or setting up arrangements for a legal separation? They are not the same thing, though in Virginia no legal document called a “separation agreement” exists. The Virginia Bar Association aptly describes how you and your wife can reach a voluntary agreement to divide real estate, property, and even your children.
A Property Settlement Agreement lets you avoid having the court rule on issues, so long as you and your spouse are both in agreement. The trap with a Property Settlement Agreement: getting everything in it with no room for misinterpretation. The Agreement will outline:
- Duties and responsibilities
Both of you sign, swear to uphold it, and have it notarized. Most Property Settlement Agreements cover five areas:
- Property division
- Spousal support
- Child custody
- Child support
- Attorney’s fees
2. The DIY Property Settlement Agreement: A Tangled Web
Amazingly, many Virginians think enough of themselves and their legal abilities to either download a generic form or type up a Property Settlement Agreement on their own. This is a huge mistake, as very few Virginians have the legal expertise to word the Agreement correctly, and specific to Virginia law.
Vague wording, overlooked details, unspecified amounts and other simple lapses can come back to bite you worse than a Brown Recluse spider. In an attempt to save a few dollars, divorcing men could be making the most expensive mistake of their lives.
3. Arguing Over Nothing
A common self-help mistake is to dig in your heels on some point in a do-it-yourself Agreement that is actually already covered by existing law. You may actually do yourself more harm than good by insisting on some clause or Agreement section you heard about, or had suggested to you by a buddy, that is legal nonsense. A capable attorney can set things straight, but instead of wasting time and money correcting your mistakes, you would be wiser to let a lawyer draw up the Agreement in the first place.
4. Leaving Yourself Vulnerable
If your Property Settlement Agreement has grievous errors, a court can void it. The court can take control of the process, like a Virginia jumping spider attacking its prey. Your wife’s attorney may be happy to let you sign away rights in a self-made Agreement, only to pounce as soon as the notary’s seal is affixed.
5. Sign in Haste, Regret at Leisure
A very common Property Settlement Agreement error is to overlook basic issues that may not exist today, but could arise a year from now. Say you two divorce and agree on details in winter. Neither of you gave a thought to that summer house in Virginia Beach. School lets out, and only then do you realize neither of you has a clear plan on sharing the property.
Longer term, the same problems arise from growing children. Your wife might pressure you to sign away for things she has no legal right to expect, like paying for college for Carl Jr. or buying Brittany a BMW.
5. Financial Fiascos
Just as the false black widow spider is a wonderful addition to any Virginia home (it helpfully eats black widow spiders), the safety net and comfort of retirement accounts are a great addition to any portfolio. Yet if you do not carefully identify and divide all your financial accounts, you may be in for a nasty surprise. Consider all the different financial instruments you and your spouse may have accumulated:
- Tax-deferred Annuities
- Your will
- Whole Life Insurance
- Mutual Funds
- Stock purchases
- Health Savings Accounts
With all of these, you may need to go over each with a fine-tooth comb and reassign beneficiaries or change percentages designated for the beneficiaries.
6. All Done! … Or Are You?
A sadly too common mistake is for two amateurs to patch together their own Property Settlement Agreement, sign and notarize it, and then assume the divorce itself will fall into place. After the Agreement, the two of you still need to file the correct paperwork to make the divorce itself final.
Rather than go through mistake after mistake, you, your spouse and your children will be better off using a trusted Virginia attorney to arrange your Property Settlement Agreement. Your lawyer will know everything that must be in the Agreement, and everything that should not be in it.
If you do not get your own attorney, and your wife’s attorney sinks her or his fangs into your agreement, you could be on the hook for a lot of money. Avoid mistakes throughout your separation and divorce. Contact The Firm for Men’s Virginia Beach office by calling us at (757) 383-9184. We can put you in touch with an experienced attorney who seldom, if ever, makes mistakes.