Separation Agreements in Virginia
Unlike many other states, Virginia does not have legal separations granted by courts. However, a husband and wife in Virginia may enter into a separation agreement. By use of such a document (also frequently referred to as a property settlement agreement), a couple may agree to live separate and apart, and to divide their property and debts in a mutually acceptable way. Where the parties have minor children, they may also provide for child support and child custody and visitation in their separation agreement. Finally, the parties may include various other provisions in their separation agreement, such as language providing for the payment of spousal support (alimony).
Separation agreements usually provide that any divorce of the parties will be on the no-fault ground of separation of the parties. With such an agreement in place, once the parties have separated and lived apart for the appropriate time (six months with no minor children, twelve months with minor children), either party may then file for an uncontested divorce on the no-fault ground of separation.
Our attorneys are experienced in the drafting and negotiation of separation agreements. You may decide to hire our lawyers to draft an agreement for you. Alternatively, your spouse might hire an attorney to draft a separation agreement, in which case you may have one of our lawyers review the agreement with you, and suggest necessary changes to the document, before signing it. In that event, you may also decide to retain our attorneys to protect your interests by negotiating changes in the agreement with your spouse’s lawyer.
Do You Really Need An Attorney?
If you are like most people, you want to minimize the costs of your divorce as much as possible. You’ve heard the stories about skyrocketing attorney fees and you intend to do everything in your power to avoid them. Plus, you and your spouse seem to be getting along and you think you’ll be able to come to an agreement on most or all of the marital issues. So you start browsing around online for a good template for a property settlement agreement or separation agreement. You can pick and choose the language you like and don’t like, and then you can add in provisions that seem like a good fit for you and your spouse. Sounds like a good plan, right? Think of all the legal fees you’ll save!
The problem with this approach, however, is that by cutting corners, you may not be cutting yourself a good deal. First of all, you may not know what you’re entitled to under Virginia law, so while you feel satisfied with the agreement you have reached with your spouse regarding the marital issues (for example, “I guess he or she can have the house”), that agreement could be extremely unfavorable to you when compared to what a judge might award you in court.
A second problem with this approach is that you may need to rely on your agreement down the line if the relationship between you and your “soon-to-be-ex-spouse” breaks down. If the language in your agreement is faulty, or if the specifications regarding custody, visitation, support, and/or the division of property are not clearly laid out, then you could be forced to spend time and money clearing up the ambiguities in court. In fact, 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 good agreement drafted right from the start.
Finally, many attorneys spend considerable time drafting and perfecting separation agreements to include a variety of protective provisions. Your online form agreement may leave out these provisions and leave you vulnerable. For example, if one aspect of the agreement is found to be inapplicable or unenforceable in court, will the rest of the agreement survive? Or, what happens if the parties later reconcile– is the agreement automatically revoked or does it remain in place until a new agreement is signed? You’ll want to make sure your agreement addresses these common “what if” scenarios, which can be highly specific to your individual state and usually aren’t covered in the “one size fits all” agreements you find on the internet.
No matter what you decide regarding the substance and language of your property settlement agreement, you should make sure that the final draft exemplifies your true intent before you sign. A good attorney will help explain the provisions in a separation agreement and make sure you’re protected going forward.
Our Family Law Attorneys
Livesay & Myers has a team of experienced family lawyers across offices in Manassas, Fredericksburg and Fairfax, Virginia. Be sure to review the qualifications and experience of each of our divorce attorneys to find the one who is the best fit for you.
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