Getting a Divorce in Virginia

Divorce proceedings are huge emotional rides, requiring a lot of mental maturity and stamina to ensure the best outcome for you and your spouse while complying with the appropriate steps and laws.

To reduce the physical and mental stress of the divorce process, I’ve highlighted the necessary steps and requirements for a legally compliant, hitch-free divorce.

Divorce in Virginia Summary

Here is a brief breakdown of everything you need to know to get a divorce in Virginia.

Divorce Petition Requirements

Divorce Filing Eligibility

The only requirement to file a divorce in Virginia is that you or your spouse have been a resident of Virginia for more than 6 months.

Grounds for a no-fault divorce

The only grounds for no-fault divorce in Virginia is separation, when you and your spouse have been living in separate homes for over six months, or one year if the marriage resulted in children.

Grounds for an at-fault divorce

There are five grounds for at-fault divorce in Texas:

Cruelty: if there is emotional, physical, or psychological abuse

Adultery: infidelity or unfaithfulness

Felony Conviction: when convicted of a felony or imprisoned for at least one year in any US state.

Separation: when there are separate sleeping quarters and no sexual intimacy

How to File for Divorce in Virginia

Step 1. File the complaint

The first step is to file the complaint at your local courthouse.

Step 2. Notifying your spouse

After filing the divorce petition at the courthouse, you must notify your spouse through a service of process. There are a few different ways you can do this.

Step 3. Fact-finding and trial

This only happens in contested divorces. Both parties engage in thorough fact-finding and present their arguments in court.

In the case of an uncontested divorce, you and the spouse can choose to have a hearing at court or to have an out-of-courthouse divorce.

Step 4. The Final Decree

The judge gives the order to dissolve the marriage.

Requirements for Filing a Divorce Petition in Virginia

Before delving any further into this topic, you should know that you can file for divorce in Virginia using an online divorce service. An online divorce service simplifies the process and saves time and money for you and your spouse. Here are the requirements for divorce in Virginia:

Residency: 

The essential requirement for getting a divorce in Virginia is residency. You must have lived in Virginia for a minimum of six months before you file. You can file for divorce either in the city or county where you or your spouse lives. 

Separation: 

Virginia law requires you and your spouse to have been separated for a minimum of six months to get a divorce. Technically, the term “separation” implies that both you and your spouse must have been living in separate homes during such a period. Additionally, you are required to sign a separation agreement. This agreement states how you and your spouse wish to divide properties between yourselves. 

If the marriage resulted in children, then you must have been separated for a minimum of one year to file for a divorce in Virginia. 

In addition to these requirements, the Virginia Code provides grounds on which you may file for a divorce in the state.

Grounds for Divorce in Virginia 

Fault-based Divorce

As the name goes, a fault-based divorce is where either you or your spouse performs one of the “faults” listed in Virginia Law. These “faults” include: 

  • Adultery: You may file for divorce if your spouse cheats on you during the marriage. Virginia law defines “adultery” as having intimate relations with another party outside a marriage. It is not uncommon for one spouse to file for divorce upon discovering their spouse’s infidelity. The statute of limitations for filing on the grounds of adultery is five years. 
  • Felony: In Virginia, you can file for divorce if your spouse commits a felony during the marriage and is sentenced to a minimum of one year in prison.
  • Cruelty: If you experience cruelty in your marriage, you can file for divorce in Virginia. “Cruelty” implies any bodily harm inflicted on you. It may also mean abandonment by your spouse. You must file for divorce within a year of experiencing cruelty for the petition to be granted. 
  • Separation: To be considered separated, you and your spouse must have separate sleeping quarters and no sexual intimacy. 

No-fault Divorce

A no-fault divorce occurs where neither spouse relies on spousal fault as grounds for divorce. This type of divorce usually occurs where you and your spouse have spent a considerable amount of time apart. 

One of the major benefits of this type of divorce is that issues relating to property and custody of minor children are sorted out before the proceedings begin. To achieve this, draft a separation agreement incorporating the terms of your divorce. Virginia Code outlines the regulations for this type of divorce in “Divorces from Bond of Matrimony,” which we shall discuss later in this article. 

If you don’t have children together, you may initiate proceedings after six months of separation. But if you do have children, Virginia law mandates a one-year separation period. After this waiting period, you are eligible to apply for divorce at the circuit court.

How to File for Divorce in Virginia

Divorce proceedings in Virginia are divided into two. 

  1. Contested Divorce: A contested divorce proceeding occurs when you and your spouse disagree on the divorce terms. This type of divorce involves high costs and seemingly never-ending litigation. 
  2. Uncontested Divorce: An uncontested divorce occurs when you and your spouse agree on the divorce and the terms of dissolution.

For instance, a contested fault-based divorce often requires much longer to settle. An uncontested no-fault divorce proceeding, on the other hand, could end in an agreement between you and your spouse rather quickly. 

Uncontested Divorce in Virginia

Step 1: Filing the Bill of Complaint

The first step to filing for an uncontested divorce in Virginia is filling out and submitting a “bill of complaint” to your local courthouse. This divorce complaint document contains the following: 

  • The place and date of your original marriage
  • The current residence of both parties
  • A written statement that you and your spouse are at least 18 years old and of sound mind
  • Where applicable, the names and dates of birth for all minor children
  • Where applicable, proof of any relevant military status
  • A written statement that neither of the parties is incarcerated

You must also fill out and submit to the clerk of the local courthouse a Form VS-4. This form requires filling in similar information to the bill of complaint. You can also use this form to make a divorce report to the Department of Vital Records in Richmond, the capital of Virginia. 

You can submit the Form VS-4 at any point before the formal hearing of your divorce proceeding. 

Step 2: Notifying Your Spouse

The next step is to notify your spouse through what is known as a “service of process.”

Service of process is a legal term that signifies you have given the other party an official notice of legal proceedings. In Virginia, this notice must be provided in specific order and manner. 

Generally, a proper notice entails a copy of the complaint and an official summons of the court, as well as other relevant documents that you must have filed with the court. 

A common way of “serving” your spouse is to ask the sheriff’s office or an impartial third party to hand the papers to your spouse for a fee. Your spouse has 21 days to answer the notice, and if they fail to do so, they waive their service of process. 

“Service of process” means that the failure of your spouse to respond would lead to their automatic consent to the divorce. In such cases, the court will simply grant the divorce by default. 

Finally, record how you serve your spouse, as it will be shown in court to prove that you correctly served your spouse. 

Step 3: Choose Your Divorce Hearing Format

After serving your spouse the divorce papers, the next step is to choose how your divorce will be heard. There are two general options at this stage that you can choose from.

  1. Oral hearing with a judge or commissioner: Once your spouse files their answer to the divorce petition, you may choose to have an oral hearing in front of a judge or commissioner.

If you choose an oral hearing before a judge, you must file a Hearing Request Form. This form is to be submitted alongside other documents: 

  • The Original Separation Agreement (as applicable under the no-fault ground)
  • A stamped self-addressed envelope (in cases with no attorney)
  • An order for restoring your former name (where you wish to revert to your last name before the marriage)
  • Any other relevant information, such as the Proof of Service of the Bill of Complaint 

After filing these forms at the local courthouse, you’ll receive a notice on the approval status of your hearing request. If you have submitted incorrect or incomplete forms, you’ll be notified through a letter of rejection, accompanied by details of necessary corrections. 

After the hearing, all you need to do is wait for the court’s ruling. The Judge may make an oral ruling after the hearing. This is called a Final Decree of Divorce, which officially dissolves your marriage.

  1. An out-of-courthouse divorce, either by using deposition or affidavit:

To avoid the hassles of meeting with a judge or commissioner, you may also apply for divorce through deposition or affidavit. This is especially helpful when you or your spouse want a speedy divorce proceeding.

In a divorce by deposition, you may be required to give a sworn testimony outside the court, which you can do at your attorney’s office. A divorce by affidavit is similar to the above, as a deposition is also a sworn testimony outside of the court. Although, for it to be recognized, your affidavit must be notarized.

Step 4: The Final Decree of Divorce

The Judge gives this order after the oral hearing and testimonies of you and your spouse. This decree dissolves the marriage and allows you to move on with your life.

Contested Divorce in Virginia

Contested divorce proceedings take on a different format since there is no mutual agreement between you and your spouse on vital aspects of the divorce.

Step 1: File a Complaint and Wait for a Response

For contested divorces, the first step is to file a divorce complaint in the local courthouse. This complaint contains your grounds for the divorce and should be served to your spouse after filing at the court.

Step 2: Notify Your Spouse

You can pay a $12 fee to enable a sheriff or private process server to deliver the documents to your spouse. Your spouse has 21 days to respond to the divorce complaint after receiving the court documents. This response captures your spouse’s admission or denial of the allegations leveled against them in most cases.

Once the complaints and counterclaims have been filed, you could file a pretrial motion. A pretrial motion is simply where one spouse requests that the court order the other spouse to undertake a specific action, for example, a motion to compel discovery.

In some instances, you may also be required to attend a pretrial conference. This conference essentially tackles any issues that may cause problems at the trial. It assesses the case and sets a date for litigation between the parties. However, in a situation where both parties reach an agreement over a contested issue, the conference may lead to a settlement.

Step 3: The Discovery Process

This is the most crucial part of the divorce. This is the period where both parties engage in thorough fact-finding to present solid arguments at court appearances. The methods employed to uncover facts include depositions, interrogations, subpoenas, etc. 

Step 4: Trial

After fact-finding on both sides, you and your spouse will request a trial date. The court usually schedules this date between six and eight months after the request has been made. However, the trial itself may only take one to two days. 

Step 5: The Final Decree Of Divorce 

The final stage of the proceeding is for the court to decide on the case by considering which party has provided convincing evidence to bolster their arguments. This order dissolves the marriage and makes your divorce official.

If you need help with your divorce . . . 

You can hire an online divorce service in Virginia for a quicker divorce process. Online services assist you with filing court documents while ensuring your divorce complaint complies with court procedures.

I’ve compared, ranked, and reviewed the top online divorce services to help you get on with your life as soon as legally possible.

You can read the results of my investigation here: 10 Best Online Divorce Services.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get a divorce in Virginia?

Virginia divorce proceedings may last anywhere from 30 days to 18 months, depending on the type of divorce. Uncontested divorces are usually finalized within 60 to 90 days of filing, while contested divorces may take as long as two years, particularly if there are minor children or disputes regarding child support payments.

What are the different types of divorce in Virginia?

Generally, there are two types of divorce in Virginia: Divorce from the Bond of Matrimony and Divorce from Bed and Board.

  • Divorce from the Bond: A divorce from the bond of matrimony is often deemed as the “normal” form of divorce. This type of divorce completely dissolves the marriage and releases you from all marital duties and obligations.
  • Divorce from Bed And Board: This type of divorce is a “partial” divorce. Under this type of divorce proceedings, you are still married, but on paper only. However, divorce proceedings would have already commenced, such as in cases of custody arrangements or the division of marital property.

Do I need an attorney to get a divorce in Virginia?

You don’t need an attorney to get a divorce in Virginia. Many people get a divorce without ever hiring an attorney. However, it may be advisable to seek legal advice from an attorney if you and your spouse have minor children or cannot agree on a property settlement agreement. If there are no minor children or property disputes, you may cut costs on attorney’s fees by using an online divorce service.

Do I have to prove separation to get a divorce in Virginia?

Yes, separation is one of the primary grounds for divorce under Virginia law. It is necessary to prove that you and your spouse have been separated for a specific amount of time. If there are no issues between you and your spouse, you must have spent at least six months in separation. If there are minor children, you must prove that you and your spouse have been separated for at least one year.

Can I get a divorce in Virginia if I was married in another state?

Yes! You can get a divorce in any state. All that matters is that you or your spouse resides in Virginia. However, when you file for an out-of-state divorce, the court may not have jurisdiction over issues relating to child support and child custody. This does not invalidate the divorce proceeding that you filed. It is best to talk to your attorney about how an out-of-state divorce may affect child support and custody.

Is spousal fault necessary for the dissolution of marriage in Virginia?

No, spousal fault is not a necessary ground for divorce in Virginia. You and your spouse can get a divorce based on “no-fault grounds.” These grounds include living separately for a year or more without sexual relations or cohabitation.

What factors influence alimony and child support payments in Virginia?

In Virginia, alimony is known as “spousal support.” This is a periodic payment given or awarded to a financially dependent spouse after the dissolution of the marriage. The primary factor in deciding alimony payments is the need of the spouse requesting alimony. 

The court considers the impact of the divorce on the standard of living of each spouse and their earning ability. It also looks at the contributions of the requesting spouse during the marriage as a homemaker and the educational qualifications of either spouse. To keep receiving alimony payments, the receiving spouse must remain separate without cohabitation with the other spouse.

Other factors influencing spousal support payments in Virginia include: 

  • Each party’s income
  • Each party’s separate property
  • The contributions of either spouse to the other’s educational or career advancement
  • The standard of living of both spouses during the marriage
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age of the parties
  • The physical and mental condition of either spouse and their ability to gain employment
  • Each party’s contributions to the marriage
  • The interests of the party in the properties
  • The qualifications of each spouse and how it may affect their ability to obtain employment

Child support payment is usually made to the custodial parent by the other spouse to contribute to the upkeep and training of the children. In deciding child support payments and the amount due, the court will consider the following factors: 

  • Your child’s educational performance and special needs (if any)
  • The mental and physical conditions of each spouse and how it affects their earning ability
  • In a fault divorce, the Court is likely to award child support payments against the guilty spouse
  • The income of the spouses

How is marital property shared in Virginia?

In Virginia, there is an equitable distribution of marital property between spouses. The essence of this division system is to compensate for each divorcing spouse’s contributions to the marriage and fairly divide the property. 

This implies that the court will determine a spouse’s fair share of the property, as well as debts accrued in the course of the marriage. Certain factors affect a judge’s decision to distribute properties between the spouses: 

  • The duration of the marriage
  • Contributions of each spouse to the marriage
  • When the property was acquired
  • The earning ability of each spouse and their ages
  • The separate property owned by each spouse
  • Contribution by one party to the other spouse’s education or career

NOTE: The court will not divide any property acquired before the marriage as it is considered separate property. Separate property also includes properties received as an inheritance or gift during the marriage. Parties may also submit a property sharing agreement to the Court for adoption by the Judge.

In Summary

Keeping up with court appearances and processes can be mentally draining when experiencing a life event as tumultuous as a divorce. I hope this guide makes things simpler and helps you get on with your life in no time, but if you still have questions or uncertainty, consider the help of an online divorce service.

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