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There is an old saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and life gives us few “lemons” quite as sour as divorce. And while many clients long for the “lemonade” a final divorce provides, they find the process about as pleasant as lemon juice in the eye, but that does not necessarily have to be the case. An uncontested divorce in Virginia can provide a means for an end without nasty court appearances or robed judges sticking gnarled fingers into the private lives of soon to be divorcees. The only impediments to an uncontested divorce are time, distance and reasonableness. An uncontested divorce in Virginia technically requires one year of separation, but a client without minor children can cut that time in half by having a property settlement agreement (PSA) prepared that divides the parties’ assets and liabilities. And even if children are involved a PSA can cut litigation costs immensely and allow the parties to deal with issues such as child custody, support and visitation without the need for a guardian ad litem or additional court hearing. While high emotions that cloud judgment are common in many divorces, your attorney should help guide you towards a path that makes the most economic sense without wasting your time and money in a tit-for-tat with your soon-to-be ex.
Of course time and distance are usually the easiest part of the divorce process and reasonableness is in short supply, but even in cases where the other party initially refuses to compromise a PSA can sometimes emerge through the process of a contested divorce. Understandably, most divorces begin contested. That does not necessarily mean the parties disagree that a divorce is warranted; they may simply disagree as to why it should be granted or how to divide assets. Additionally, when serious allegations arise such as abuse, a contested divorce can be unavoidable. In all of these cases, the first court appearance is usually at a pendente lite hearing. At a pendente lite hearing the court will issue a temporary order that establishes a status quo between the parties for the required one year of separation or otherwise as the divorce slowly moves through the court. Because the court encourages the parties reach a settlement on minor issues and burden the judge with only the more contested pressing issues, a pendente lite hearing many times provides the parties with their first opportunity to sit down and work towards a final agreement. Compromise in this setting does not mean giving up your rights but simply recognizing the mutual rights of both parties. Demanding more than the court will grant is fruitless and your attorney should be able to recognize a wasted endeavor and encourage a compromise if needed but stand firm when required. Even in situations where compromise is in short supply at a pendente lite hearing and the judge himself has to hear evidence and issue an order, the parties can sometimes be shocked into a more compromising mood. Because a judge only has limited time to hear a case, their orders can appear harsh at times and a party with pie-in-the-sky expectations can be humbled into reality. When faced with the possibility of an unsavory temporary order becoming permanent at a divorce trial, the parties may be more willing to take the reins from the court and work towards resolving their own issues by drafting a PSA. Once a PSA is signed a contested divorce can be moved to the uncontested docket and the sour lemons of the divorce process may finally begin to taste a bit more like lemonade. Throughout the process your attorney is not only your advocate but also your guide and as he is leading you to a final divorce he doesn’t need to take the scenic path.