Month: December 2017

12 Mistakes You Should Avoid During a Divorce

Unfortunately, for many people, some of the biggest mistakes that they make in their life come about during a divorce.  The divorce process is unfamiliar, stressful, and often painful.  There’s a lot at stake. Often, people settle for less than they deserve because of a long, drawn-out battle. In many cases, they fail to realize how the divorce will affect their children or they fail to understand that legal missteps made over the course of the divorce could affect them for many years to come. You don’t have to walk the same unfortunate path that many others have. Knowledge is power and with knowledge, understanding, and strength, you can dodge these top 12 mistakes that are commonly made during divorce proceedings.
  1. Not listening to your attorney – Not all divorce advice should be treated equally. Friends and family, trying to support you, are full of advice and often not afraid to offer it.  Your attorney is the best source of legal advice for the issues affecting your divorce. Choose your attorney carefully.  You want someone who understands you and your specific circumstances.  This is the person whose advice matters.  Your attorney will protect both your interests and your rights.
  2. Starting your case aggressively – Don’t start your case by going on the attack. Typically, in response, your spouse will attack you in return. Eventually, you may burn through thousands and thousands of dollars, have a life filled with drama, and hate your spouse. Avoid opening the floodgates of anger if you can. Let your attorney take the lead.  Remember, your goal is to divorce… not start a war.
  3. Selecting the wrong divorce process – Thankfully, you have several options to choose from. You have the option of selecting collaborative law, negotiation, or mediation. If things don’t work out, you can always fight it out in court. But, before you start the divorce process, carefully study your choices, talk with your attorney, and choose the divorce process that will get the best results for you and your family.
  4. Keeping your kids in the dark – Nothing is more frightening to children than not knowing what is going on. Talk to your kids.  They want and need information.  Keeping your children in the dark doesn’t spare their feelings, it makes them worry.  Explain how the separation and divorce will impact their day-to-day lives, and if at all possible, include your spouse in this discussion.  Listen to what your children have to say, their fears and concerns, and answer any and all questions honestly.  Don’t assume that all is fine with the kids just because they aren’t exhibiting problems.
  5. Not understanding custody – Failing to understand custody and what will work best for your situation can be a big mistake. Physical custody will be where your children live the majority of the time. Legal custody gives you the authority to make specific decisions on behalf of your children about things like education, religion, and medical decisions. Visitation or access is the amount of time spent with the children by the non-physical custodian. Make sure your attorney understands what you want for your children.
  6. Failing to plan for life after the divorce – Divorce is expensive and money may be tight, but it’s important to think beyond the present. Work with your attorney, accountant, and financial advisor to create a financial plan for after your divorce.  This will help provide guidance and clarity with respect to your assets, income, expenses, and liabilities, and help you make decisions about things like keeping or selling your home, receiving alimony and/or child support, acquiring life insurance, and taking investment assets over retirement assets.  Once you understand the numbers, you can move forward and create an affordable budget for your future.
  7. Failing to make the effort to collect complete financial information – While it’s possible to settle a case without collecting all the financial details of your spouse, it’s not something that a family law attorney would ever recommend. After all, you can’t equitably divide something if you don’t know what is there in the first place. Work with your attorney and take the time to collect and completely understand your finances and your spouse’s finances before the case is settled.
  8. Failing to understand that divorce is a marathon instead of a sprint – If someone tells you that divorce is easy or fast, don’t believe them. Divorce is often contentious and rarely a smooth and amicable process. It’s pretty much guaranteed that a divorce will cost more and take longer than you thought. You and your attorney will need to work through the process and that takes time.  An experienced family law attorney will guide you through each step and protect your rights.
  9. Using social media as a public divorce forum –Don’t post anything about your divorce on social media that you wouldn’t want to see introduced in court. No matter how frustrated you may be, don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Cyberspace is not the place to litigate your divorce.  Many cases have been destroyed over Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter posts. Even if the post has been deleted, anything posted online exists forever and digital forensics has become a major source of evidence in divorce cases.
  10. Signing documents without understanding them – Even if you trust your attorney and he/she wrote your divorce documents, it’s foolish to sign something without reading and completely understanding it. If you don’t understand a document, then take the time to ask your attorney to explain it to you, and keep asking until you understand.
  11. Confusing the tax ramifications of the settlement – It’s important to know that several actions during the divorce may have large tax ramifications, for example, selling your home. Make sure you understand these tax implications to keep your finances in order and discuss them with your attorney, accountant, and financial advisor, if necessary.
  12. Choosing to fight battles instead of the war – Choosing to fight over a small stipulation in child or spousal support and paying thousands of dollars in legal fees in the process is fighting the wrong battle. In the end, it is not likely worth it. Listen to your attorney and focus on what really matters in the big picture.
Divorce is an emotional time and it’s easy to make mistakes that may come back to haunt you in the future. Keep a level head. Consult your attorney and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Being thorough now will make your life much easier after the divorce is final.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a general practice law firm based in Reston and serves the Northern Virginia area.  Our practice areas include Family LawDivorce and Special Needs ChildrenTraffic Ticket DefenseDUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients. We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about divorce, separation agreements, and our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.

Do I Need a Separation Agreement in Virginia?

Unlike many other states, legal separation in Virginia is not granted by the courts.  Instead, a husband and wife, wishing to separate and divorce, may simply live apart, even under the same roof.  It is strongly advised, though, that they enter into a separation agreement, also called a marital settlement agreement or property settlement agreement.  This document states that the couple has agreed to:
  • live separate and apart
  • divide their marital property and debts in a mutually acceptable way
  • provide child support, custody, and visitation for minor children
  • include other appropriate provisions such as spousal support or maintenance
The act of simply leaving a spouse can be deemed spousal desertion.  Separation agreements provide that any future divorce will be on no-fault grounds.  Once the agreement is in place, and the parties have separated and lived apart for six months with no minor children, or twelve months with minor children, either party may file for an uncontested divorce on the no-fault grounds of separation.

What does a separation agreement cover?

A separation agreement should cover major life circumstances going forward, including, but not limited to the following items.  Your attorney will be able to tailor your agreement to your specific circumstances and protect your interests.
  • Property division
  • Division of debts
  • Visitation of minor children
  • Child support payments
  • Spousal support
  • Health insurance
  • Disposition of the marital home
  • Pension plans, IRAs, 401(k)s, and other retirement assets
  • Tax issues
  • Future dispute provisions

Do I need an attorney?

The short answer is no.  You can draft a separation agreement yourself.  But, as with all contracts and legal documents, it is best that you consult with a knowledgeable Virginia family law attorney with experience creating separation agreements.  You’ve heard that separation, divorce, attorney fees, and court costs are expensive.  But this is not the place to try to minimize costs.  By cutting corners during the separation agreement process, you may ultimately be harming yourself.  You probably don’t know what you’re entitled to under Virginia law, and the agreement you reach with your spouse may not be favorable compared to what a judge might award you in court. It’s also important to remember that just because you and your spouse are on friendly or civil terms now, this may not always be the case and your relationship may break down in the future.  If the language in your separation agreement is faulty, or the specifications regarding custody, visitation, support, and the division of property are not laid out properly, then you could be forced to either live with the terms of the signed agreement or spend time and money trying to clear up the ambiguities in court. Unfortunately, you may well end up spending much more in legal fees later to “fix” issues created by a faulty separation agreement, than it would have cost you to simply have a solid agreement drafted by an experienced attorney right from the start.

Why is a separation agreement important?

If you have absolutely no marital property, no joint debts, and no children, you probably don’t need a separation agreement to get a no-fault divorce.  You and your spouse will simply go your separate ways.  But that is not the norm.  A separation agreement provides for the future governance of your relationship, and also provides evidence to the court as to the date that you separated.  It can be the difference in waiting 12 months versus six months for a no-fault divorce. When properly drafted, this document leaves no doubt about the details of the ending of your marriage relationship.  It is always better to have a clearly written and signed agreement than to rely on verbal understandings.  In addition, if you have a Virginia separation agreement, your divorce proceeding will be simpler and it will be clear to the court that you have an uncontested divorce. A separation agreement is a legal document that will determine your rights, obligations, and responsibilities from your marriage over many years into the future.  A Virginia family law attorney spends considerable time drafting separation agreements with the goal of protecting your rights.  Your attorney will make sure that all the “what if” scenarios are covered.  A one-size-fits-all, fill in the blanks document that you find on the internet does not necessarily protect you or take into account your very specific situation.

About Melone Law, P.C.

Melone Law, P.C. is a general practice law firm based in Reston and serves the Northern Virginia area.  Our practice areas include Family LawDivorce and Special Needs ChildrenTraffic Ticket DefenseDUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients. We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about separation agreements and our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.

© 2020 Melone Law P.C.