In my last series post, I described the residence requirements for filing for divorce in West Virginia, without a lawyer. Once you determine that West Virginia has jurisdiction, the next step is to work out an agreement. Some readers may think that the next step is filing paperwork at the courthouse. The paperwork to file for divorce is readily available in West Virginia. You can download the documents, fill them out and file them at the courthouse.
However, that may not be the best option. When you file for divorce without a lawyer and without an agreement, what happens next? If the only grounds you include in your divorce paperwork is irreconcilable differences, you won’t be able to get a divorce unless your spouse files the paperwork agreeing to those grounds. Even if the other party admits to irreconcilable differences in their “answer”, without reaching an agreement BEFORE you file your papers with the court, you can’t predict what will happen in court. You won’t know whether or not you will need to have more than one hearing or if you will need to bring exhibits or provide testimony on different topics.
Is it possible to have more predictability? If you and your spouse agree on the property division and parenting plan BEFORE you file, you will be more likely to have only one hearing. If the judge accepts your agreement, you may be able to be divorced in a few weeks or months.
You can reach that agreement in four ways:
- Work with your spouse to develop the agreement.
- Work with your spouse and a mediator to develop an agreement.
- Hire a lawyer for you and your spouse to work up the agreement.
- Hire a lawyer for you or your spouse to write up an agreement.
Our office helps families create agreements before filing with mediation and collaborative law.
- Mediation. While mediation can occur anytime in any legal proceeding, including divorce, it is often helpful to mediate issues before you incur the stress and expense associated with litigation. In mediation, you can attend without lawyers. Additionally, either party can hire a lawyer to advise them before or after the mediation or to attend the mediation.
As a mediator, I work with both you and your spouse to find common ground. In most cases, the parties agreement is then put in writing in two documents that they may file with the court. One is a PROPERTY SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT that described how they will divide marital property. The other is a JOINT PARENTING PLAN that describes how the parents plan to share parenting their children. Again, you can file for divorce without a lawyer and without an agreement, but many families decide to reach these agreements before engaging with the courts.
- Collaborative Divorce. If both parties prefer to work with lawyers, they can still work collaborative divorce may be a good option. In collaborative divorce, specially trained attorneys, well versed in both the law and communication skills, work with the parties to develop agreements. Several Eastern Panhandle attorneys are qualified to work with parties in these circumstances. Once developed, the parties' lawyers may be retained to fill out the paperwork and attend the court hearing. Alternatively, the parties can take the agreement and file without attorneys using the forms and procedures developed by the Supreme Court
You don’t have to reach an agreement before filing for divorce. However, unless both parties agree to the divorce, and you have a written agreement, it may be best to consult with an attorney. Both parents and children benefit from the collaboration and clarity of agreements. Reaching an agreement before filing may save you legal costs, may expedite the hearing and may avoid unnecessary stress and instability. Work with a mediator or collaborative attorney to develop the Property Settlement Agreement and the Parenting Plan. Then, get your documents prepared to file!