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Frequently Asked Questions

I think my spouse and I will agree on terms, how long will the process generally take?

That depends, in part, on you and the other party and the amount of negotiation required to reach a settlement agreement. Every case is unique and it is difficult to outline a "typical" path, as it can vary depending on the facts, circumstances and personalities involved. It also depends upon how long it takes the Court to process your documents. For example, November and December tend to be busy months for the Court, due to vacations and the flood of people trying to finalize their divorces before the end of the year.

To the extent there is a "typical" process when both parties are willing to negotiate and are able to successfully resolve all outstanding issues in a settlement agreement, such process is as follows:

  • Negotiate and sign a settlement agreement
  • File a Complaint for Divorce (how long after signing the Agreement depends upon whether you have already been separated for the required time period)
  • Receive service papers from the Court, and then either send the Complaint to the other party and ask him or her to sign an Acceptance of Service or send the Complaint to the other party's attorney or serve the other party with the Complaint via a process server
  • Receive the Acceptance of Service from the other party, and file it with the Court OR the other party's attorney files an Answer to Complaint for Divorce
  • Either conduct a deposition of you and your witness (before a court reporter) or have you and your witness complete Affidavits
  • Have all parties and/or their attorneys review, finalize, and sign a Final Order of Divorce
  • Where required, have all parties and/or their attorneys review, finalize, and sign a retirement order (there may be an intermediate step here of submitting the proposed retirement order to the Plan Administrator first for review, prior to submitting it the Court)
  • File the Final Order of Divorce (and retirement order(s), if any) with the Court, along with the deposition transcript or Affidavits and the parties' original Agreement
  • Have a Judge sign the Final Order of Divorce usually 2-3 weeks from the date of submission although it may take anywhere from an additional 1-3 weeks to receive the certified copy of your Final Order of Divorce from the Court
Can you represent both my spouse and me?

No, that would be a conflict of interest and an ethical violation.

What if you have met with the other party?

I cannot meet with you, as I would have a conflict of interest.

How much will my case cost?

This depends on many factors, including the process/approach selected, the complexity of the facts and circumstances, the nature of the assets and liabilities (for example, is a business valuation needed, or real estate appraisals), whether you and your spouse have differing views on appropriate custody and visitation arrangements for your children, and the attitudes and desires of both you and the other party. The fee advance is merely an estimate of what it will take to resolve your case. Some clients don't use up their entire fee advance. Others have to renew their fee advance to the firm which typically occurs in cases with protracted negotiations and/or litigation with discovery involved, court appearances etc. It depends upon the nature of your relationships (the more contentious, generally, the longer it takes to negotiate). Litigated matters (where we need to go to court) are much more expensive than those that can be settled out of court.

Regardless of the nature of your matter, there will typically be filing fees charged by the court and sometimes fees assessed by the court for extra certified copies. Your fee advance is also used to cover charges incurred on your behalf for things like couriers, process servers, and court reporters.

We encourage clients to minimize legal fees by doing as much work as possible on their own (for example, making copies of discovery documents and spending the time to prepare detailed, complete and organized answers and responses). We also attempt to minimize fees by offering more cost effective solutions or alternatives, where possible and when available.

What sort of advocate will you be for me? Will you be aggressive?

One of our client's probably answered this best: "She was able to be tough as nails without demonizing my ex or my ex's lawyer....If you want an attorney who will be a jerk and make the process even more bitter and acrimonious, do not hire Kelly."

Keep in mind, acrimonious equals expensive. One of our goals is to keep your legal costs to a minimum so you can reserve your financial and emotional resources for yourself and your children. With an eye on the bigger picture, our preference is to try to negotiate and to keep things amicable. However, when that is not possible, we are fully prepared to be as aggressive as the circumstances require in order to protect your interests.

Do you typically represent more men or women?

We generally represent an equal number of men and women. Our clients are representative of the Northern Virginia area as a whole, and as such are diverse in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and class.

What financial documents should I focus on gathering for my attorney?
  • Individual income tax returns for the past three (3) years (state and federal)
  • Business income tax returns for the past three (3) years (state and federal)
  • Recent paystubs for both parties
  • Bank statements
  • Investment account statements
  • Documentation evidencing stocks, bonds
  • Retirement account statements (401Ks, 403Bs, IRA's, TIAA-CREF, TSP etc.)
  • Pension and military retired pay statements
  • Life insurance policies, including any associated cash value
  • Real estate appraisals and tax assessments
  • Appraisals for personal property
  • Mortgage statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Automobile Loans statements
  • Personal loan statements
Can my father/mother/friend/etc. come with me to the Initial Interview/Consultation?

It is understandable and quite common to bring a friend or relative to the consultation. However, having a third party present will breach the attorney-client privilege. If any confidential information is to be disclosed at the consultation, it is best for the friend or relative to step out of the room so that confidentiality is preserved.

What should I bring to the Initial Consultation?

In the typical case, nothing specific should be brought to the consultation, as this is an initial meeting to review the facts, law in Virginia, and to outline a plan. However, since questions will be posed regarding assets (for example, the estimated fair market value of the marital home, the approximate balances of bank accounts, retirement accounts, cash value of life insurance etc.) and liabilities (for example, the principal balance owed on any mortgage, approximate balances on credit cards etc.), ideally a potential client will review this information in advance of the consultation and either bring an asset and liabilities statement, or at least be able to provide a general outline of the assets and liabilities with approximate balances when asked.

Once I have met with an attorney for the Initial Interview, does that mean the firm represents me?

No. Although the attorney client privilege is in place, the firm is not engaged and does not formally represent you until such time as the Fee for Representation Agreement is signed, setting forth the terms of the representation, and the required fee advances paid.

Can you meet with my spouse and me, together, for the Initial Interview/Consultation?

No, an attorney can only represent one party in a divorce action. If I met with both parties for the initial interview/consultation, that would constitute a conflict of interest, and I would thereafter be unable to represent either individual.

I just have a few questions. Can one of your attorneys answer them for me over the phone, without my having to come in for an Initial Interview?

It is impossible to provide any meaningful advice without understanding the background, facts and circumstances of your matter. We do not run the risk of providing answers that may be incomplete or inaccurate because we have been given only a brief synopsis over the phone. Therefore, we generally refrain from responding to questions over the phone without having the Initial Interview/Consultation.

How is the collaborative process different from mediation?

In simple terms the collaborative process is one where both parties expressly sign an agreement to refrain from litigating. This is an open process, with limited confidentiality, and is focused on the attorneys, clients and possibly other third parties, such as financial advisors, working together as a team to resolve the matter in a way that is best for all involved, including any children. In mediation, the parties are working to resolve the matter, but there is no prohibition against litigation, as sometimes litigation occurs contemporaneously with the mediation process. Also, although mediation is supposed to be a cooperative process and include full disclosure, the rules of confidentiality are slightly different, and the attorneys (if involved) do not have the same requirements of complete candor with the opposing attorney and/or party. Further, it is permissible for a party to focus and base the negotiations on his or her own best interests, rather than the entire family.

If we try the collaborative law approach and then change our minds, can you then represent me at Court?

No. When we begin the collaborative law process, you and I will sign an agreement in which we commit ourselves to settling your case without court intervention. The agreement will explicitly state that I cannot be your attorney in contested court proceedings if either you or your spouse decides to go to court. Because the collaborative process requires full disclosure and involves 4-way meetings with your spouse and his or her attorney, I would be disqualified from representing you in court as I would have knowledge about the other party's case that would not otherwise have been disclosed, but for the collaborative process.

Do you have experience dealing with military divorces and military retirement issues?

Yes, we have extensive experience in these areas.

Does it matter who files for divorce first?

Generally, no. There is no real benefit or advantage to filing first. If one party files, the other party is then given an opportunity to file his or her own Complaint for relief as well as an Answer or other responsive pleading as appropriate.

Can my spouse and I live separately in the same house?

A separation under the same roof has been recognized by Virginia courts, provided that certain guidelines are followed. This is a topic that would be discussed during the Initial Interview/Consultation and guidelines for maintaining, and proving, such separation would be provided.