Getting a divorce can be a long, expensive, and emotionally draining process.
This article covers 5 general tips you should know for filing for a contested divorce in Virginia.
If you’re instead interested in filing for an uncontested divorce, you should check out our other article: 5 Tips for Filing a Successful Uncontested Divorce in Virginia.
Contested Divorce in Virginia: The Basics
A contested divorce occurs whenever a divorcing spouse disagrees on either (1) the grounds of the divorce, or (2) any significant element of the divorce.
Contested divorces are adversarial processes where each spouse makes an argument in front of a judge, who will then decide each issue of the divorce.
For example, if you disagree with your spouse on how to split your assets (car, house, valuables), you may have to appear in front of a judge.
The judge would then decide on how to split the property “equitably” (i.e. “fairly”).
5 Tips for Filing a Contested Divorce in Virginia
If you choose to pursue a contested divorce, you should brace yourself for a long and complicated legal battle.
For this reason, you need to take steps to solidify your case as early as possible.
While the contested divorce process can be difficult, there are several tips you should keep in mind to help ensure a favorable outcome.
Tip 1: Establish Grounds for Your Divorce
Contested divorces are generally more expensive than uncontested divorces.
This is because you’ll have to appear in front of a judge to settle your differences.
In more complicated cases, you may have to appear in court multiple times.
This is especially true if you are basing your divorce on a specific “fault” committed by your spouse.
- Abandonment, desertion, or neglect
- Conviction of a felony
While it may not be hard to prove that your spouse is a convicted felon (as the court will likely have records of their conviction), proving adultery or neglect can be an uphill battle.
In order to develop the strongest possible case for your fault-based contested divorce, you should collect evidence to help prove these accusations in court.
Saving text messages, taking photographs, keeping track of unusual financial expenses, or going to a medical facility or the police to document abuse are all important steps in proving fault-based grounds.
If you lack the evidence to support a fault-based divorce, you may want to consider filing for a no-fault divorce instead.
In this scenario, you should instead collect evidence to show that you’re truly separated from your spouse.
For example, in a no-fault divorce you may want to collect:
- Evidence of physically separate households, such as housing or rent documentation.
- Evidence of financial separation, such as establishment of separate accounts or credit cards
- Other, similar evidence that shows your relationship has ended, such as changing gyms, hanging out with different friends, or taking your spouse off your phone plan.
- Any evidence that is related to any grounds that might be contested, such as child care schedules if custody will be contested
Tip 2: Request Pendente Lite Relief
“Pendente lite” is a legal term which means “during litigation.”
In most cases, a pendente lite order temporarily settles a matter while each side argues out the issue in court.
For example, a judge may order that you take care of a shared child while you and your spouse agree on a more concrete custody order in court.
Specifically, judges award pendente lite relief when one spouse has a financial need that they can’t cover during the divorce proceedings, such as housing or food costs.
As noted above, judges can also establish pendente lite orders to address other concerns, such as living arrangements, child custody, and visitation.
Since contested divorces are often drawn-out processes, you’ll want to look into asking the judge to settle a few matters while litigation is ongoing.
Tip 3: Document Your Assets
One of the most time-consuming elements of a contested divorce is “discovery.”
“Discovery” is the process where each attorney requests evidence from the other party in order to help build their case.
The evidence requested could include things related to fault-based grounds, or simply evidence related to assets or child support and custody.
Since the other party is going to request the information during the discovery process anyway, it’s smart to begin identifying your assets and collecting relevant documents early in your case in order to save yourself time and stress down the road.
This may sound like a basic tip, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who simply don’t know the true value of what they own.
For this reason, you should make a list or spreadsheet which lays out all of your:
- Valuable property (anything valued at more than $50 is worth writing down)
- Debts (both individual debts and debts you share with your spouse)
- Sources of income (include tax returns for the past several years as well as recent paystubs)
You should take this information to your divorce attorney so they can gain a better understanding of your case.
Finally, don’t forget to include any documentation regarding your spouse’s property, debts, and income.
Tip 4: Safeguard Your Relationship With Your Children
Sadly, children are often caught up in the contested divorce process.
For this reason, you should make an effort to maintain a healthy relationship with your children throughout your divorce.
This is especially true if your divorce involves matters such as custody or visitation disputes.
Don’t get caught up in fighting your spouse and forget to look after the interests of your children, don’t ignore a court order simply because you believe that it is unfair, and don’t direct baseless claims or attacks at your spouse which undermine their role as a parent.
Not only do such actions erode your relationship with your children, they can also hurt your divorce.
Judges always decide custody and visitation issues based on the best interests of the child.
This means that safeguarding your relationship with your children can also have a positive effect on your divorce proceedings.
Additionally, you should start a journal to help document any significant developments regarding custody or visitation.
Being able to say “my spouse failed to drop off our child at my house on these three days,” and backing up this fact with evidence, can help establish you as a responsible parent who is looking out for your child.
Tip 5: Do Not Take Legal Advice from Your Spouse, Friends, or Family
If you’re going through a divorce, your friends and family members may want to tell you what happened in their case, or even what happened in their friend’s case, and start comparing that situation to yours.
To be especially clear – do not take legal advice from people who are not trained, legal professionals.
Further, do not take legal advice from people who have not reviewed every element of your case.
Especially when it comes to domestic legal matters such as divorces, cases are often incredibly fact-specific.
Even if a strategy worked in your friend’s case, that doesn’t mean it will help in yours.
Comparing your divorce case to the experiences of your friends and family is a mistake that will only hurt you in the long run.
Even if you have similar assets, family situations, and personalities, you can still have wildly different experiences in court.
In a similar fashion, you should never take legal advice from your spouse or their attorney during a divorce.
Especially during a contested divorce, your spouse is disagreeing with you, while your spouse’s attorney is being paid to disagree with you.
Taking legal advice from individuals who have conflicts of interest, such as your spouse or their attorney, is an equally terrible idea.
Contested divorce cases are always fact-specific, and only a qualified, local family law attorney can properly judge how successful your case will be.
At the same time, there are still several things you can do to help improve your chances of winning in court.
Always make sure to meet the requirements for filing for divorce in Virginia, document your assets and request relief if necessary, and protect your relationship with your child (if applicable).
Never take legal advice from your friends or family, and especially avoid any advice given by your spouse or their attorney.
Finally, always speak with an experienced family law attorney before pursuing a contested divorce in Virginia.