When does the divorce process begin? Does it begin when you or your spouse first start talking about it? Does it begin with the filing of a complaint for divorce?
In reality, you can and should begin planning for divorce when you first start thinking that it may be a realistic option for you and your spouse. Early planning can help ease stress along the way, help the process move more quickly, and help you and your attorney gain a more positive outcome for you.
So what does divorce planning entail? Here are five key steps:
1. Make Sure You Meet All the Requirements
In addition to other requirements, Virginia has a residency requirement that you must meet in order to file for a divorce here. One spouse must have maintained a physical residence in Virginia for at least six months prior to filing a complaint for divorce and consider Virginia to be his or her home. Some of the questions a judge may ask to determine if you meet this residency requirement are: Do you pay state taxes to Virginia? Do you have a Virginia driver’s license? Are you registered to vote in Virginia?
2. Determine Grounds for Divorce
You can obtain a divorce in Virginia on “fault” grounds or “no-fault” grounds. Fault grounds include abandonment or desertion, adultery, and cruelty. “No-fault” means that you have lived separate and apart from your spouse, without any cohabitation or interruption, for at least one year. This period of separation may be six months if you have an agreement and do not have minor children.
No-fault divorces are the most common and you may file a no-fault divorce (or ultimately obtain a no-fault divorce) even if one spouse’s behavior was the cause of the breakdown of the marriage. However, there are times when you need or want to file a complaint for divorce alleging a fault ground. You and your attorney will discuss and determine the strategy that is best for you.
3. Organize Financial Documents
The more you know, the better! Often in a marriage, each spouse is responsible only for certain expenses or the parties do not share a joint account. The more information you can learn about the family finances as a whole, the more prepared you will be for the divorce process. For instance, if you owned assets prior to the marriage, make sure you have statements showing the balances of the accounts or values of the assets immediately before the marriage.
Begin gathering as much information as available to you concerning the assets and debts owned by either spouse – individually, jointly, or with a third-party. Make copies of statements from banks and investment firms or brokerage accounts, mortgage lenders and credit card companies, retirement accounts, etc. You should not open your spouse’s mail or use deceit to obtain this information. Often the information is available to you in the home, and you have simply not paid attention to it in the past.
4. Consider Your Living Situation
Will you be able to continue living with your spouse after the divorce process has started? Will your finances enable you to live separately during the required period of separation? You should think about who is likely to stay in the family home and consider alternative living arrangements for the other spouse. Sometimes this decision is easy and one spouse willing moves from the home. Other times both parties refuse to move from the home or the parties cannot afford to support two households during the divorce process. In these situations, the level of stress and acrimony in the home can be nearly unbearable. If you have to remain in the home with your spouse, being prepared and having strategies in place for when the tension begins to build will help you stay calm and less stressed.
5. Develop a Financial Strategy
For many people, the most shocking aspect of divorce is the dramatic changes required when switching from a single two-income household to two single-income households. An early, close examination of your and your spouse’s spending habits can keep you from feeling blind-sided when this doubling of expenses happens to your family. In many instances, some fairly minor adjustments can make big differences. Knowing your realistic budget also will help you and your attorney be prepared during the divorce process if child support and spousal support or alimony are issues in your case.