For couples who were contemplating separation before the pandemic, being quarantined together in the same house can be an awkward and uncomfortable situation. You may be wondering how it may impact the timeline for filing for divorce.
Here’s what you need to know about legally separating from your spouse and beginning your divorce proceedings in Virginia during COVID-19.
Are we legally separated if we still live together?
The first step on the road to divorce is separation. In a no-fault divorce, where the dissolution of the marriage is a mutual agreement between the parties, Virginia couples must be separated for one year and a day, or for six months and a day if they have no minor children together and create a valid separation agreement.
For many couples, “separation” begins when one party moves out of the marital residence. However, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, you do not have to maintain separate physical addresses to be considered legally separated. This may be a relief to couples who are quarantining together, since the current state of the world makes moving out more complicated.
However, you cannot cohabitate as a married couple might otherwise do. You must act as platonic roommates, not a single unit. This means you cannot share a bed, a bedroom, cook and clean for each other, engage in activities as you would have as married couple (not related to the children), nor hold yourselves out to any friends or family as if you are planning to remain married. Living together during your separation can make proceedings tricky, however. To avoid issues, make sure you and your spouse have established and agreed to a clear date of separation before you begin drafting your settlement agreement.
Can we start our divorce proceedings while the Courts are closed?
As of the writing of this piece, Virginia’s Circuit Courts (which grant divorces) are closed for contested divorce matters and family law hearings to the public until further notice. However, the Circuit Courts of each county in Virginia set their own rules, so it is best to find out what your local Circuit Court is putting in place to handle family law matters.
For instance, in Loudoun County, Virginia, if you meet the requirements for a no-fault divorce, you do not need to wait to begin to your divorce proceedings. You can file documents with the court by mail and, for uncontested matters, the entire divorce can be completed without either spouse needing to attend court. Some courts have also installed drop-boxes, which allow you to drop-off your paperwork in a flat yellow envelope for later processing by the court clerk. This means you can still make progress on your divorce case, especially if you and your spouse plan to represent yourselves.
If you have a pending uncontested, no-fault divorce case that was filed before the Courts shut down, know that it can still be finalized by a presiding judge who will review your paperwork in his or her private judge’s chamber to ensure all your documents are in order and that a final order of divorce can be entered.
How to be proactive about your divorce case or separation during COVID-19
Life during the COVID-19 pandemic is uncertain, but your divorce doesn’t have to be. Here are a few ways for you and your spouse to be proactive about your case during quarantine:
- Work with your spouse to draft a settlement agreement. If you physically have to share the same space, prepare your home so you can act as roommates.
- Establish a separation timeline so both you and your spouse’s attorney (if applicable) are on the same page.
- Start thinking about custody and visitation arrangements if you have minor children.
- Be kind to yourself and open with your partner. Divorce isn’t easy but can be even harder if you’re constantly holding on to anger.
- Consult with a legal coach like the experienced attorneys affiliated with My Legal Case Coach (dot com) to review your settlement agreement and divorce paperwork, if you’ve begun the filing process. If you are just starting to figure out what you need, consider scheduling a free 15-minute consultation with an experienced attorney at My Legal Case Coach (MLCC) to get some guidance on your next steps. You can also learn more about the comprehensive forms packets available through MLCC for drafting your own settlement agreement and finalizing your divorce with the Circuit Court.
My Legal Case Coach is here to support you and guide you through your DIY divorce case. Schedule a free 15-minute consultation and we’ll work together to find the right legal case form packet for your needs. With any packet purchase, you’ll receive one free hour of 1:1 virtual legal coaching, with the option to purchase additional blocks of coaching time starting at just $100 per hour.