Marriage and Divorce
MARRIAGE - A STEALTH CONTRACT
Unless you had a prenuptial agreement when you got married, you entered into
a stealth contract that you probably didn't even knew existed. The
contract consists of hundreds of pages of law and cases for the jurisdiction
where you live. It a major undertaking involving children, support and
property. And you are presumed to know all of the terms of
because you will be held to them.
Also, the contract is not very intuitive. It is different from any other
contract you may have signed. For example, your pay is no longer your
pay, but becomes marital property, which is distributable by the court upon
divorce. If you start a business during your marriage, and it becomes
successful solely through your efforts, you will probably have to buy your
spouse out upon divorce. If your spouse breaks the contract and wants
a divorce, he or she may still get half, and you may have to pay
your own attorney
fees and your spouse's as well.
We all get married till death do us part and for better or worse. We
have hopes and dreams of a long future together. No one expects to get
divorced when they get married. This stealth contract may
never affect you, as long as you stay married. But it will govern if
you ever get divorced.
COMMON LAW MARRIAGE
Although you can get married in a religious or civil ceremony, you have to
obtain a license from the government. In some states (and the District
of Columbia) couples can be married without a license by living together and
holding themselves out as husband and wife. This is called a common
law marriage. Virginia does not recognize common law marriages.
Even though we are divorce lawyers, we are still in favor of
a client shows up at our offices seeking a divorce, we ask first if they have
tried reconciliation. We encourage them to talk to their spouses, and
confront the problems in their marriage head on. If that doesn't work,
we refer them to marriage counselors.
Even if you are the best husband or wife in the world, you may still end
up in a divorce. Although it takes two people to get married, it takes
only one to get a divorce. It may take longer to get a divorce if only
one person wants it, but it is inevitable.
In any group of people there are different agendas and desires. And
a group is two people or more. So the wonder isn't that there are
so many divorces. The wonder is that so many people manage to stay
Sometimes you just have no choice but to get a divorce. You may need
to get out of your marriage to have a better life. You may have chosen
the wrong person to marry. Or your spouse may demand a
DIVORCE FROM THE BOND OF MATRIMONY
Divorce is a way of ending a marriage. You have to go to court to
get a divorce. In Virginia you can have a Divorce from the Bond of
which means a final and permanent divorce.
A final divorce allows you to get remarried again, resolves all issues of
custody, support, and property, may allow for use and possession orders of
family use property, allows the court to enter an award to adjust equity,
permits the sale of property, and permits a wife to resume a former name.
DIVORCE FROM BED AND BOARD
There is also a procedure in Virginia for obtaining support and other relief
when you don't have grounds for a final divorce. This is
called a Divorce
from Bed and Board. It is Virginia's equivalent of a limited divorce
or legal separation. The grounds for a Divorce from Bed and Board are
easier to meet than those for a Final Divorce. For example,
of any duration, even for one day, qualifies as grounds for a Divorce from
Bed and Board in Virginia.
A Divorce from Bed and Board permits you to establish custody, visitation
and support until you qualify for a Final or Absolute Divorce. If
you don't need to establish those matters, then you may not need to incur
the additional costs of this extra proceeding. You do not have to file
for a Divorce from Bed and Board first in order to get a Final or Absolute
Annulments are granted by the court only in certain rare cases. The
legal effect is to void a marriage from the very beginning--as if
had never married.
A divorce says this marriage is ended. An annulment says this marriage
never existed. Annulments are rarely granted and usually there has
to be some kind of serious fraud involved. So you are better off in
most cases getting a divorce.
Religious annulments are easier to obtain, and you may request one even
after you have a legal divorce from the court. You may want to get
your spouse's agreement to cooperate in a religious annulment or divorce,
but it is sometimes possible to obtain one even over your spouse's
PENDENT LITE RELIEF
The court can also award pendente lite support. "Pendente
lite" is Latin for "pending the litigation" so it means
temporary support until the divorce trial. There are things you
may need for the court to do pending the final trial. The court,
upon request, can set a hearing to determine the financial needs of the
parties and children, and the ability of a party to pay, and order support
accordingly. This award is subject to rehearing at the
final trial. The
court can also order custody or specific visitation pending the
THE EMOTIONAL DIVORCE
Divorce is like a train wreck. It is just as traumatic to the parties
and the children involved. There are enormous currents of emotions
at play during a divorce as well as major legal and financial
Abigail Trafford describes these ACrazy Times@ in her book by the
We know what you are feeling right now, because we have had many clients
who felt the same way. Those that followed our advice have found that
they feel better today.
We distinguish between the legal divorce and the emotional divorce. The
emotional divorce may not coincide in timing with the legal
may take years to get over your divorce and move on with your
recommend discussing your emotional divorce with a good therapist.
Anxiety is a common human emotion. People will find something to worry
about even when times are good. When going through a divorce, you will
find many things to worry about, and you will have good reason to
if we tell you not to worry, you will worry. Let us suggest that instead
of worrying about your problems, you worry at your
of letting your mind be consumed with worrying about how bad the situation
is, you should concern yourself with what you can do to solve the
your problems in writing. It helps you to focus clearly. (Then
destroy these notes.)
Depression is another fairly common experience in divorce. If you are
going through a divorce and you feel uncertain, insecure, or depressed, then
you have a normal problem. You may want to obtain some
if you are going through a divorce and you feel no uncertainty, insecurity,
or depression, then you may have a big problem. You should get
There are support groups for separated and divorcing parties. You can
find support on the Internet where there are virtual communities of separated
and divorced people. We have included a list of resources at the end
of this book.
The support of friends and family is invaluable during divorce, but we offer
one word of caution. Your family and friends will offer you advice about
your case. They will tell you about someone that got life-time alimony
or someone that didn't have to pay any alimony. The facts and
of your marriage, divorce, children, and property are unique and are different
from any other case. Often such advice is not correct, and you need to
take it with a grain of salt. This is not your neighbor's divorce or
your Aunt May's divorce. It is your divorce and it is different from
anyone else's divorce.
We tell our clients that during a divorce:
Your ears don't work.
Your eyes don't work.
Your mouth doesn't work.
Your head doesn't work.
By this we mean you may not hear or understand everything we say, you don't
always say what you mean, you may not perceive things correctly, and you may
exercise poor judgment.
Your spouse will probably say things that will upset you. It will help
to always keep in mind that, in the end, it is only what the Judge says that
counts, not what your spouse says.
So if you are feeling depressed right now, or anxious, or crazy, welcome to
the club. You are not alone. In fact, you may be joining
the majority. And
while this is not a particularly pleasant life lesson, you will survive it,
and become much stronger and wiser in the process.
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