Ever consider making your own coffin? You can choose for a straightforward and relatively inexpensive plywood casket, or a more elaborate “toe pincher” style reminiscent of the Old West. Plans are available, for free, on the internet for the do-it-yourself funeral fancier. We are not recommending this, nor do we pass judgment. We only say you can do it, not that you should do it. Similarly, the internet offers “separation agreements” for the do-it-yourself divorcing couple. On this one, though, we are passing judgment; do not write your own separation agreement. Here’s why.
Precisely Zero Easy Steps
If you see online forms, templates and the like offering the “opportunity” for you to write your own “legal separation” agreement in Ten Easy Steps, the authors of that have missed the mark by ten too many. The reality is easier: there are zero easy steps to writing your own legal separation agreement.
Legal Separation? No Such Thing
In Virginia, courts cannot grant you some kind of legal recognition as being “legally separated.” You cannot get “legal separation,” or any permutation of those words. The only thing you and your wife can do is sign a separation agreement and live apart. It is the first step toward legal divorce from matrimony (or bed and board) in Virginia.
It is an important step, though, and needs to be handled correctly. You cannot, for example, print out some generic template off the internet and replace “California” with “Virginia” and think you are on solid legal footing. Virginia simply has no mechanism for granting legal separation.
What Is a Separation Agreement, Then?
If it sounds like we are talking in circles, we get that a lot; lawyers cut words and concepts with lasers. The “separation agreement” is a legal document, but it does not result in “legal separation.” You cannot stand around a Virginia winery at tasting time and murmur, “My wife and I are legally separated,” because you are not, in the eyes of a Virginia court. You two are still married.
All a marital separation in Virginia does is start the clock for the time needed to be separate and apart, though still married. A year apart (with children) or six months apart (without children) with a signed separation agreement allows you two to move on to divorce from the bonds of matrimony, under Code of Virginia § 20-91. The purpose of the separation is to accelerate a no-fault divorce.
The separation agreement has other names, which may add to the confusion (though we attorneys apparently add our own special contributions in that area):
- Marital settlement agreement
- Property settlement agreement
The document itself can be drawn up between you and your wife, but should be supervised by attorneys representing both your interests. She could seem to agree to everything, then later claim she did not fully understand what the agreement said, and try to get it tossed out.
It’s Just A Piece of Paper
The separation agreement or property settlement agreement has exactly no easy steps to it. The little piece of paper really needs to cover everything; the shorter it is, the less likely it is to answer every detail of your married and separate lives:
- Who gets the kids?
- Who gets to visit the kids?
- Who gets the patent for the giant gummy bear (Stefan D. Murza of Portsmouth gets that one, but you may have some other great invention; you get the idea)
- Who gets the property, vehicles, vacation house, or the garage full of pinpall machines?
- Who gets the retirement accounts, or how will they be divided?
- Who takes on the credit card debts?
- Who pays the mortgage next month, after we separate?
- Which spouse pays the other spousal support?
- How much child support does one spouse pay the other?
Go Ahead, Give Up Your Rights! (Just Kidding)
At The Firm For Men, we work very hard day in and day out trying to protect and regain men’s rights in this Commonwealth. Many times, we get frustrated seeing men just give up. They stop fighting; they want to settle. They sign a separation agreement (aka marital settlement agreement) without regard to important rights they cede:
- Your right to see your children
- Your right to a secure retirement
- Your right to real property, land, intellectual property, or future profits
- Your right to receive spousal support
- Your right to a fair threshold on child support payments
Those “write your own” websites might as well be headlined, “Give Up Your Rights!” If you rely on an online template, a do-it-yourself separation agreement, or a ready-made form, you could be signing away valuable rights.
We Get Men’s Rights Right
By relying on the experience of trained attorneys at The Firm For Men, you can be sure your property settlement agreement will allow you to settle down comfortably and securely. Our lawyers will help you draft a document you and your wife can sign that will protect you, protect her, and protect your children (if any). It will also be accepted by a Virginia court as the first step toward divorce, the final outcome usually desired by a Virginia husband and wife entering into the agreement.
We do not encourage you to make your own coffin or your own separation agreement. For the first, we suggest letting licensed professionals handle your final affairs. For the second, we suggest contacting us at The Firm For Men by calling us at 757-383-9184.