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Virginia Divorce Process

Getting divorced is never easy, but knowing what to expect can help. The process for getting a divorce depends on where you file it. The time it takes to get a divorce varies depending on the circumstances.

Here, we’ll explain the divorce process in Virginia. We’ll also discuss how the Virginia courts handle alimony, child custody, and property division.

Virginia Divorce Process: An Overview

It's important to review Virginia's divorce laws and statutes. The legalese of statutes is difficult to understand, so we've provided a summary of the statutes in plain English.

The table below highlights important divorce laws in Virginia. We have also provided helpful links to relevant statutes.

Relevant Virginia Divorce Statute(s)

Virginia Code, Title 20, Chapter 6

Residency Requirements to File for Divorce

At least one spouse must have resided in Virginia for a minimum of six months immediately preceding the filing of the divorce

Waiting Period

In no-fault divorces and divorces based on desertion or cruelty, spouses must live apart continuously for at least:

  • One year if there are minor children
  • Six months if there are no minor children and the parties have signed a separation agreement

If filing a no-fault divorce, the parties must be separated for 6 months or a year, prior to filing. If filing on desertion or cruelty grounds, a separation period is not required to file the divorce. A one-year separation is required, in those cases, to finalize the divorce.

General Steps to Get a Divorce in Virginia

  1. File a Complaint in the appropriate circuit court
  2. Provide legal notice to your spouse by officially serving them with copies of the Complaint and Summons
  3. Your spouse will file an Answer if contesting some or all of the Complaint, or a Waiver of Notice if not contesting the divorce complaint
  4. If the divorce is uncontested: There may be a hearing, or you may file a deposition or affidavit to corroborate the facts of the case
  5. If the divorce is contested: there's a trial, and the judge will hand down a ruling
  6. The judge will issue a Final Decree of Divorce

Related Statute(s)

Virginia Code. Title 20. Chapter 8

Section 20-147, et seq. (Premarital Agreement Act)

Note: State laws are subject to change through new legislation, higher court rulings, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information, consult an attorney or conduct legal research to verify your state’s laws.

Types of Divorce in Virginia

Virginia law offers two types of divorce: Divorce from Bed and Board and Divorce from the Bond of Matrimony. A divorce from bed and board is a partial divorce, where the parties are still married on paper but are legally separated.

Divorce from the bond of matrimony is a traditional divorce. The process for this type of divorce depends on several factors, including:

  • Whether the couple has minor children
  • Whether the plaintiff files a no-fault divorce or a fault-based divorce
  • Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested
  • Whether the spouses can negotiate a marital settlement agreement

An uncontested divorce involving no children will resolve much quicker than other divorces. No-fault divorces also finalize faster than fault-based divorces.

Grounds for Divorce in Virginia

In Virginia, both no-fault and fault divorces are available. If you file a no-fault divorce, you only need to certify that you and your spouse have lived separately and without domestic relations and cohabitation for at least one year.

According to the Code of Virginia § 20-91, the legal grounds for a fault-based divorce include:

  • Adultery or other sexual acts outside marriage
  • Willful desertion or abandonment
  • Extreme cruelty or reasonable fear of bodily harm
  • Felony conviction with a sentence of at least one year and a period of actual imprisonment

There may be cases where fault impacts how the court divides property. If you have concerns or questions consider reaching out to a Virginia divorce attorney for legal advice.

What To Include in Your Virginia Complaint for Divorce

You must include your requests for child custody, spousal support, and equitable distribution of property in your divorce complaint. There are several reasons for this. First, the court requires that you do so. Your spouse must also list their demands when they file their answer.

Second, you won’t necessarily get a chance to make these demands during the divorce proceedings. You must include this information when you file your divorce papers with the clerk’s office. If you have not included your requests in the initial pleadings filed with the court, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to request them at a later time.

Third, your complaint and demand for these items are a starting point for negotiations. If your spouse has no idea what you’re asking for, they may be less amicable about the divorce process.

If you and your spouse separate before filing for divorce, your separation agreement can act as a blueprint during settlement negotiations. This applies in both an uncontested and a contested divorce.

There’s No Guarantee That You’ll Receive Alimony

There’s no guarantee that either party will receive alimony after the divorce. Often it's the lower-earning spouse demanding financial support. If you and your spouse cannot agree on alimony, the judge will decide this issue.

When determining whether either party deserves alimony, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • Length of marriage
  • Age and health of the parties
  • Earning capacity, employment history, and education
  • Contributions to the other spouse’s career or business
  • Employability
  • Whether one party is the primary caretaker for the children

One other factor the court will consider is property division. If one spouse retains their pension and retirement accounts and the other has nothing, the court may award alimony.

Retirement accounts that accrued during the marriage are considered marital property and subject to division as a marital asset in Virginia.

Virginia Divorce Cases and Child Custody

Child custody is one of the most complex issues to resolve during a divorce. The general rule is that both parents will share joint legal custody of the kids. Unless one of the parents behaves in an egregious or reckless manner, they will get to spend time with their minor children. The primary consideration in deciding custody and visitation is what is in the child's best interest.

As for child support, the courts defer to the state child support guidelines. The court only cares that both parents can provide sufficient care for their children.

Get Legal Help With the Divorce Process in Virginia

This article provides a helpful overview of the divorce process in Virginia. If you still have questions or don't want to try to do this alone, consider discussing your situation with a skilled Virginia divorce attorney. Not only do divorce lawyers know the law, they also know how to navigate the local family courts.

If you're contemplating filing for divorce, speak with a local divorce attorney. They'll help guide you through the divorce process and protect your legal rights.

Virginia Divorce Process: Related Resources

For additional information and resources related to this topic, please click on the links listed below.

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