Your spouse tells you that she wants a divorce. This is not what you had ever imagined. Perhaps you are shocked, devastated, or a little bit angry. What do you do now? It was not supposed to be this way. Unfortunately, if your spouse does want a divorce, you can’t prevent her from ultimately obtaining one. Fortunately, there are ways of slowing down the process to ensure that your legal rights are protected.
If your spouse wants a divorce, you don’t have to do anything until she actually files and serves you with a Complaint for Divorce. Your spouse can threaten you with divorce, or present you with a marital settlement agreement demanding that you sign it, but you aren’t obligated to do or sign anything. Once you are served with a Complaint for Divorce in the Commonwealth of Virginia, you have 21 days to respond from the date you were served. It’s imperative that you seek the advice of counsel and respond within that time period. Otherwise, your spouse can move forward with the divorce process, without having to give you any further notice.
Being an ostrich and burying your head in the sand once the divorce process has started is not a good idea. While you may oppose the divorce by refusing to respond or sign any legal documents, your spouse can still move forward with getting divorced, with or without you. Additionally, your refusal to answer may cost you.
For example, in the event that you fail to respond within 21 days to the Complaint for Divorce by filing responsive pleadings (an Answer, Demurrer or Counterclaim), the court will begin to set dates that apply to your divorce case, such as discovery deadlines and hearing dates. If your spouse issues discovery (Requests for Admissions, Requests for Production of Documents, Interrogatories) and you fail to respond, the court may compel you to respond, or refuse to allow you to support or oppose claims or defenses raised by your spouse. The court can also prohibit you from introducing evidence, and assess sanctions against you, including ordering you to pay your spouse’s attorney’s fees for failing to respond. Thus, it’s important to remember that the divorce process will continue moving forward with or without you.
If your spouse is adamant about moving forward with a divorce, you should participate by assessing your potential claims and defenses and not ignoring the process altogether. You should talk to an attorney to discuss your options, such as negotiating a marital settlement agreement, and identifying your wants and needs to rebuild your post-divorce life. As painful as it may be, in some circumstances your cooperation can yield a better outcome, and save a lot of time, money and suffering.
If you find yourself facing a divorce, be sure to review your options with an experienced family law attorney in your area. Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced family lawyers across offices in Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, Manassas and Fredericksburg, representing clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.