What We Cover In This Article
Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives
The brutal truth is divorce is never pleasant and the process of getting a divorce can be daunting. A complex maze of procedures, requirements and laws make the process intimidating. However, it doesn’t have to be unclear.
You need the correct information on the types of divorce laws, residency requirements, and grounds for divorce in Virginia to guide you the process and make the correct decisions for your situation.
This guide will do just that and show you everything you need to know about getting a divorce in Virginia.
Types Of Divorce Laws
Divorces in Virginia can be contested or uncontested. The type of divorce informs the laws and guidelines that will apply to your case.
A contested divorce in Virginia is when one or both parties disagree with the terms of the divorce. The terms in a divorce can include property division, child support, child custody, spousal support, division of non-property assets, and more.
When one party disagrees with any part of a divorce settlement, they are contesting the divorce.
A contest practically means that the judge will decide how the two parties can separate assets and how they will settle the divorce. That can include but is not limited to the following.
Property allocation refers to which party gets what in terms of real property, possessions, and assets. Most people assume this means real estate property, but it covers almost all possessions the two parties shared while together. That can mean a house, for sure, but also a vehicle, internal household possessions, secondary homes or property, and sometimes money.
Property allocation gets tricky when the issue is possessions in a home. While most parties can agree on internal home possessions, even those can cause a dispute in a contentious split. That is why, if you are thinking about divorce, it is wise to start inventorying anything you might want as part of the agreement.
The property falls into assets in this section. Still, asset allocation is primarily focused on investments because tangible assets like property are easier to understand than intangible assets, like a business investment.
Examples of that include:
- Retirement accounts
- Financial investments
- Interests in a business
- Debt owed to the family
- Other intangible holdings contributing to the overall financial status of the family
As mentioned, a contested divorce also includes figuring out how to handle any debt the couple has accumulated. That can be a tricky proposition as it has an impact on virtually all other financial settlement details.
For example, an individual might have personal debt. The court must designate debt owed by both parties to one party or the other. They can offset payment of debt with an asset in a divorce agreement.
In a contested divorce, the child custody aspect of the agreement often gets very ugly. Children are usually highly loved and highly valued by both parties. The fact that the two parents are divorcing, however, requires an agreement on the following (this list is not comprehensive):
- Living arrangements
- Which parent has final decision-making authority
- What funds are available from either spouse to help support the child
- Restrictions on access to the children either party might have
- Visitation rights
- Restrictions on what either parent can do with the child
- Custody of the child during holidays, vacations, etc.
Agreeing on all of those points can be difficult for both parents, and the court can serve as a mediation between the two.
READ MORE: Co-parenting With a Narcissist
Well Being of the Child
In addition to reaching an agreement on custody and visitation, another goal of the contested divorce process is to let the court determine the best course of action regarding custody of a child or children.
For example, if a parent travels on business and is only home on weekends, the primary responsibility of the children will likely go to the other parent, provided they are around more. Likewise, if there are mitigating circumstances, such as criminal charges or addiction, the judge will review those facts and determine if the circumstances should affect child custody.
When preparing for this part of the divorce process, it is critical to keep in mind that the judge has a process they must follow, but they are not required to agree with one party or the other. Likewise, the court does not have to provide one parent a minimum amount of time or unsupervised time with a child.
We’ve covered just a very partial list of areas that might fall under scrutiny in a contested divorce. The goal of the contested divorce process is to secure an agreement or ruling on:
- Terms of a divorce agreement
- Splitting and disposition of any assets
- Child custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child
- Financial responsibilities of either party (alimony and child support)
- Specific actions either party must take to finalize the divorce agreement
- Specific steps either party cannot take in regards to each other or the child(ren)
In a contested divorce, the court is objective and desires an amicable split but will rule based on the law and the circumstances as presented. One element of the goal of a contested divorce process is to ensure both parties get a fair arrangement.
Pros & Cons
In an uncontested divorce in Virginia, both parties agree on all issues, or any disagreements they have are not significant. Part of that is an agreement on the reason the marriage is dissolving. In addition, both agree on the following:
- Splitting of tangible assets
- Splitting of intangible assets
- Assumption of financial responsibilities
- Child custody arrangement and visitation rights
- Actions either party must take or cannot take
One reason for an uncontested divorce is to cut out the need to go to trial. Generally, an uncontested divorce works best with:
- Two parties that are in complete agreement on the divorce and the terms of the divorce
- When one party has no assets to split or both parties are in agreement on their division
- When there are no assets or debt to split or both parties are in agreement on their division
- When both desire a quick issuance of the divorce
- When child custody and support are not in question
- When alimony is not in dispute
The court has the following priorities:
- Granting of the divorce
- The well-being of the children
- Fairness for both parties
The priority list shows what the court will want to emphasize and why it will focus on various aspects of a settlement (assets, debt, and spousal obligations). Additionally, when possible, the court will encourage both parties to seek counseling to save the marriage.
A Judge’s Decision
A court will do all it can to encourage saving a marriage unless it is obviously irretrievably broken. If the parties cannot agree to terms and a settlement in the divorce proceedings, the judge will rule on all aspects of the divorce.
The final ruling from a judge is legally binding. Not following the verdict can result in financial penalties and other measures to ensure adherence to the order. Courts will generally try to avoid that, but repeat violations of the agreement will eventually result in a penalty action.
Pros & Cons
If you qualify for an uncontested divorce, using an online divorce service is a great way to save a lot of money. Keep in mind in Virginia, divorce can cost over $11,500 in fees if you file for divorce with an attorney.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Residency Requirements in Virginia
The court must have jurisdiction over you before granting a divorce. To file a divorce in Virginia, at least one of the parties must meet the residency requirements.
One spouse must have lived in the state for a minimum of 6 months to file a divorce. They should also be residing in the state at the time of filing. If one of the spouses lives in another state, the complainant must follow the proper procedures for serving their spouse with the papers.
If the spouse has never lived in Virginia, the court will decide jurisdiction over them. If the state has limited authority, the court may divorce the parties but not settle the terms of separation.
A member of the Armed Forces of the United States stationed or residing in Virginia is considered a bona fide resident.
Successfully serving your spouse with divorce papers if you cannot contact them is challenging. However, the court can process your case if you formally deliver the documents and submit “proof of service” to the court.
Civilian employees of the United States, such as foreign service officers stationed in Virginia before the suit, are bona fide residents.
Members of the armed forces and civilian employees of the state are deemed to be stationed in Virginia if:
- They live in Virginia's military, naval, or airbase, and the state has exclusive jurisdiction over them.
- They live on a ship in a port in Virginia.
Members of the Armed Forces would meet the residency requirements if they lived six months in Virginia before being stationed in a different country.
How do you prove residency?
- The filing spouse should list their residency in the sworn complaint.
- The petitioner’s residence can be proved by collaborating witness testimony.
- Providing copies of the driver’s license, leases, and utility bills can prove the fulfillment of residency requirements if the filing spouse has moved severally.
- A sheriff’s proof of residency is required in some counties.
How to establish residency
If a petitioner wants to file for divorce in Virginia but doesn’t meet the residency requirements, they can establish residence through:
- Registering as a voter
- Securing a job in the Commonwealth
- Buying property in Virginia
- Getting a driver’s license
- Opening a bank account
Grounds For Divorce in Virginia
Virginia is a fault and no-fault state.
No-fault divorce has one ground: divorce based on separation. Eligibility for no-fault divorce requires the parties to have separated for one year if there are minor children. In case there are no minor children, eligibility is six months separation with a signed settlement agreement.
A fault divorce is based on bad conduct with the following grounds:
If one of the spouses has been convicted for a felony after the marriage, divorce can be granted. That is, if the spouse has been sentenced to one year or more confinement in prison, and cohabitation has not resumed after imprisonment after knowledge of the conviction.
Regardless of the felony conviction, there is no waiting time to file for divorce.
Abandonment or Willful Desertion
A spouse can file for divorce based on abandonment or desertion. Breaking of cohabitation with intent to abandon by cutting contact and denying spousal support is considered abandonment.
The abandoned spouse may have the advantage when it comes to court alimony decisions. To prove abandonment as a ground for divorce, you must verify that your spouse stopped living with you.
The spouse should prove the other party's intent to abandon and that the abandoned spouse was not at fault.
Desertion can be justified with evidence of conviction or incarceration, cruelty, and adultery.
The court can grant a divorce if proof of cruelty exists. The two main types of cruelty recognized by the state of Virginia are emotional and physical cruelty.
Bodily harm, acts of violence, and conduct that endangers safety and life constitute physical cruelty. Neglect, verbal abuse, humiliation, and inhumane treatment are considered emotional cruelty.
Evidence of cruelty acts is required to prove this ground of divorce. This could be physical evidence such as videos, photographs, and hospital records. Collaboration by a third party like friends, law enforcement, and family to testify to cruelty is evidence for cruelty.
Adultery in Virginia occurs when married parties engage in a voluntary physical affair. Emotional affairs may not qualify as adultery.
To prove this ground of divorce, the petitioner must provide convincing evidence that their spouse had sexual intercourse with another person. In addition, a collaboration of the adultery through testimony from a witness is required.
Confession or statements from your spouse of their adultery or texts can support the case. Likewise, admission through text alongside collaborative materials like photographs and love letters can provide convincing evidence.
A divorce case on the grounds of adultery can be barred through several defenses.
- Recrimination – If the accused proves that their spouse also committed adultery, they can use recrimination as a defense.
- Time-Barred – Adultery as a ground for divorce has a five-year statute of limitation. Therefore, the suit mustn’t be filed more than five years after the infidelity.
- Condonation – This defense is used when the spouses resume cohabiting or sexual relations after knowledge of the adultery.
- Connivance – If the petitioner facilitates or encourages the adultery, their spouse can use the defense of connivance or procurement.
Adultery can affect alimony but does not necessarily attract a fine for punitive damage. Proving adultery can be leveraged for divorce settlement negotiation.
Using a Virginia Divorce Attorney
While you may not require an attorney for a simple uncontested case, you still need legal advice. The court expects you to follow the same rules, standards, and procedures divorce attorneys apply without assistance from the court.
A contested divorce needs an experienced legal advocate to advise on your rights, facilitate the paperwork, advice on proposed agreements and represent you in a trial.
An attorney will help you negotiate the terms of your divorce and the division of assets and child custody.
What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?
The divorce process comes with emotional and financial stress. A good lawyer will guide and support you through the process. Here are the competencies to look for:
An experienced attorney will advise on the best approach for your divorce and how to achieve your goals. Due to their experience, they know how to leverage issues like custody, alimony, and spousal support for a favorable outcome.
They are objective when handling divorce cases and do not make rush decisions that can negatively impact the process.
An experienced attorney will comfortably work through the red tape to resolve the case. They have experience working with opposing attorneys and the family court and will represent you for the best verdict in your favor.
A professional attorney will give you the best outcome and experience. A professional attorney is competent, respectful, effective, and ethical.
A professional attorney will be punctual to meetings, confident, not arrogant, and will successfully meet deadlines. You can assess the professionalism of your divorce attorney by looking up the State Bar if they have been disciplined or suspended for misconduct.
Your attorney should be well-equipped with the skills and resources you need for a successful case. For instance, they should have the means to support their client to get evidence for grounds of divorce.
They should have an accounts team to locate and collect records for assets and liabilities. They should also have adequate human resources like associates to work on your case around the clock.
A track record of success in similar divorce cases is a sign the attorney is well-equipped.
Divorce cases are high-pressure, and confidence in an attorney is critical. Confident lawyers can convince the judge with their arguments and display assertion to prevent bullying by the opposing counsel.
Good communication is vital in the divorce process. The lawyers should communicate with you easily and clearly.
They should be willing to explain divorce laws to you in simple terms and advise on the best available options for your case. In addition, they should be open about the weaknesses, strengths, and expectations of your case.
The attorney should be able to communicate effectively with the opposing counsel and persuasively even with the judge. This will facilitate settlements and negotiations.
A good attorney is available when you need them. A lawyer with ample time will take on your case effectively. They should be available to respond to your queries in good time. Avoid divorce attorneys overloaded with cases or understaffed law firms; they will not be dedicated to your lawsuit.
How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney
Choose your attorney based on their professional background and track record.
Look in the right places
Ask for recommendations from your network and go through reviews and testimonials from previous clients to assess credibility.
This will give you a credible list of potential divorce attorneys. Do your research to narrow down the list for your final pick.
Conduct an interview
Through an interview, you will find the ideal lawyer for your situation. Asking the right questions will extend your research and evaluate their suitability for your immediate needs.
Consider the fees
Before hiring an attorney, get information on their initial consultation and recurrent fees. Find out more about all extra costs in the divorce process to avoid putting a dent in your pocket during the process.
Request for a fee structure to avoid surprises. Understand how much you are required to pay and when.
If you choose a lawyer and feel they are not doing a great job, you can change the attorney even if your case is pending.
Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys
The top ten questions to ask a divorce attorney include:
1. Which area of law do you practice?
An attorney that specializes in divorce law will be the best fit for your case.
2. How much experience do you have handling divorce cases?
The answer will highlight the level of expertise of the attorney. For example, a divorce attorney with years of practice knows what is necessary to win your case.
Ask about the success rate of the cases they have handled to know if you will get a favorable outcome.
3. Do you have any awards or accreditations?
Divorce attorneys with extra accreditations apart from their qualifications are resourceful. A history of successful cases and achievements is a sign you are hiring an expert.
4. What is your rate?
Ask how much the retainer is, what it covers, and if there is an additional retainer after depletion. The retainer deposit is paid to start the case. Confirm if the retainer covers the whole matter.
Other fees to ask about include the hourly rate, contingent fee, statutory fee, and flat fee. An estimate of the fee structure will help you decide if you can afford the attorney or budget or make alternative plans to avoid dragging out the case.
5. How frequently will we communicate about my case?
Average communication of about one to four times a month is a sign of a good communicator and an organized attorney. The attorney should indicate the mode of communication: email, in-person meetings, or videoconferencing.
6. What is your existing caseload?
This will tell you the attorney's availability and if they have a team to support them with the case.
7. Do you use mediation?
A lawyer that can utilize mediation can help you avoid the ill-will of a divorce process and save fees on litigation. Choose a lawyer with mediation experience, and they can prove this through certifications in the specialty area.
8. How will you support me with the divorce case?
This question will help get the best fit. Do you want an aggressive lawyer that can represent you in a trial, or do you want a good mediator who will facilitate a settlement outside the court?
9. How will child support, alimony, and custody be applicable in my case?
Alimony, child support, and custody are critical elements of the separation agreements. Asking this question will give you a feel of whether the attorney is experienced in the area.
Confidence and clarity in answering the question is a good sign.
10. Tell me about yourself
Apart from the professional qualifications and competencies, interpersonal skills are vital in a divorce attorney.
Look out for red flags such as the attorney not getting along with people, inability to communicate effectively with other divorce lawyers, and their support for conflicts.
If the attorney mentions they are busy 15 hours a day, they may not be available for your case.
The answer to this question will tell you if the attorney shares your values and you can connect effectively for the success of your case.
Is the Initial Consultation Free?
The consultation fees vary with law firms. Some firms offer a free initial consultation and others will charge an hourly or flat fee rate. Be sure to ask ahead of time to avoid surprises. In an initial free consultation, you will discuss the nature of your case, what to expect, and your options.
Is the Meeting Confidential
When seeking legal advice, communication with an attorney is privileged, and the attorney cannot disclose it to anyone.
Pros of Using an Attorney
The key benefits of hiring a divorce attorney are:
- Knowledge – They have extensive knowledge of family law and divorce, hence, understand the entire procedure in the state. Therefore, they are in the best position to support the proceedings and keep your divorce on track.
- Paperwork – So much paperwork is involved, and it is challenging for an inexperienced person to manage. However, an attorney will handle it effectively since they know what and when to file, allowing you to go through the process relaxed.
- Settlement and negotiation – An attorney will skillfully negotiate the best terms for your settlement and save you money and time in the process.
- They will help you avoid costly mistakes – The divorce process is complicated and mistakes can cost you both time and money. An attorney will navigate the process efficiently and use their experience to avoid mistakes. An attorney can help you manage your emotions and avoid errors that can affect your case.
- Research and evidence – Divorce attorneys have the resources to support in collecting necessary information and evidence for your case.
- Less stressful process – Having a professional representing your interests is less stressful than handling the divorce alone.
Cons of Using an Attorney
- Pricey – Hiring an attorney can be expensive, especially if it is a complex, contentious case. Divorce cases can be lengthy, and you have to pay for the attorney’s time.
- May stir drama – Hiring a lawyer without informing your spouse may make them feel blindsided. To avoid drama, tell your spouse that you will have an attorney.
Filing for Divorce in Virginia
Filing for an uncontested divorce
To file for an uncontested divorce in Virginia, spouses must settle the division of assets, personal property, alimony, and child custody and support and memorialize the terms in a settlement agreement.
To file for this divorce, spouses must meet Virginia’s residency requirements.
Spouses must have lived separately for one year uninterrupted. If you don’t have minor children, you are required to live six months separately before filing.
1. Draft Divorce Settlement Agreement
Document the terms of your divorce in a divorce settlement agreement. This serves as a contract between spouses and handles all divorce issues, including alimony.
A divorce attorney can help you prepare the settlement agreement and reach an agreement with your spouse. This document must be appropriately drafted and filed on time.
2. Prepare Divorce Forms
Paperwork may vary with counties in the state of Virginia. Check with your local court for additional documents.
Some of the forms required include the complainant form that constitutes the spouses’ identification details and residence. This form should be filled and submitted at your local Circuit Court.
A VS-4 Form should be submitted to a high court clerk for an official report of the case.
A Cover Sheet for Filing Civil Actions will be filled once the case kicks off with a court clerk. Notary Public should be present as you sign forms that require notarization. All paperwork should be filed in a Circuit Court in the county you live in.
Check the fees requirements for filing the paperwork, and if you cannot pay, check your eligibility for a waiver.
3. Attend the Final Hearing
Most counties in the state will schedule a hearing for you and your spouse to attend. You can also request for a hearing through an affidavit if unavailable for a physical hearing. Check with the clerk’s office for the available hearing options.
4. Complete the Process
Uncontested divorce cases are usually quicker. However, the time the judge signs the Decree of Divorce may vary. It depends on factors like a contest to your petition if your spouse has an issue with your petition.
The divorce is only complete when the judge signs the Decree of Divorce.
Filing For a Contested Divorce
To file for a contested divorce in Virginia, you must follow these critical steps:
1. Preparing Your Divorce Forms
If you are eligible to pursue a divorce in Virginia, get your forms from your county website and print them. The structure of the documents may vary with counties in the state.
Files required to file for divorce include:
i. Complaint Form
The document includes information on both parties' residences and the date and place of your marriage. In addition, you should provide the names and dates of birth of minor children and the grounds for your divorce.
Submit the complaint at your local Circuit Court.
ii. VS-4 Form
The document is used to report your case to the Department of Vital Records officially. Fill it out and submit it to the high court clerk before the formal hearing.
iii. Cover Sheet for Filing Civil Actions
The Cover Sheet for Filing Civil Actions will be filed with a court clerk when your case commences.
The documents will have fields for the plaintiff and the defendant. Forms that require notarization must be signed in the presence of a Notary Public. Make copies of the documents for your records.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
2. Filing Your Divorce Forms
File the forms with the clerk of court’s office of the city you last lived together with your spouse. Pay filing fees to serve your spouse with the papers. In case you are unable to pay, you can file a petition to proceed without payment.
3. Serving Your Spouse
Provide notice of the divorce to your spouse with a “service of process.” A proper service process includes a copy of the complaint, official court summons, and other relevant documents handed over through an impartial third party or the sheriff’s office.
Your spouse will then file an answer within 21 days. After that, your spouse can either admit or file a counterclaim.
4. Filing of Pretrial Motions
This occurs when either party requests an action from the other party. For example, spouses can file motions requesting motions to compel discovery, pendente lite relief, and continuances. This is when the parties prepare their legal strategies and collect evidence for the ground of divorce.
5. Pretrial Conference
This is a settlement meeting that occurs between the lawyers and the judge. It takes place before the trial date is set.
Several pretrial meetings may take place after discovery or just before the trial date. The lawyers provide their client's settlement position and their versions of facts.
It is an undistracted opportunity with the absence of evidentiary interruptions often featured in trials.
The lawyers ensure the judge is not misled by ensuring only accurate facts are portrayed. The pretrial conference allows the judge to interact with the facts and evidence.
The court then indicates its likely verdict if identical evidence was presented in a trial, creating a basis for recommendations on the settlement. The parties can then consider the proposals or proceed to the trial.
6. Request for Pendente Lite Relief
The spouses can request the pendente lite relief for issues that require immediate action. For instance, spousal support until the actual hearing to maintain the financial status of a spouse pending the hearing of the matter.
The judge can also issue an order for a spouse to cover the healthcare costs of the other spouse. The court can also give a ruling on child support and custody until the hearing.
7. Discovery Process
This is still part of the pretrial, whereby the spouses get information and evidence from the other party. The process ensures uniformity in access to information, which both parties use to negotiate a favorable settlement.
The discovery process may feature subpoenas, requests for admissions, depositions, and the production of documents. In addition, financial records are requested in the discovery process to determine the division of assets and debts.
Records relevant to the conduct of a spouse are requested to resolve custody disputes. Failure to comply with the discovery process could lead the court to rule in favor of the other party.
8. Expert Testimony
Expert testimonies provide a professional opinion to the court on a divorce settlement. For instance, financial experts can provide insights into the value of a couple’s assets. Social workers and psychologists can provide advice in the best interest of the children.
To determine spousal support and alimony, experts can advise on the earning capacities of the spouses based on their mental and medical status. In addition, financial experts like forensics accounts and real estate experts can help you understand the value of your assets.
9. Divorce Hearing
After the discovery process, the couple can request for trial.
Decide if you want an oral hearing with a judge or use a deposition or affidavit out of the courtroom. Suppose you choose an oral hearing, file a hearing request form. If approved, you will receive a scheduling notice for your hearing.
A deposition or affidavit divorce can occur in the attorney’s office if the parties do not want to participate in the process or are unavailable. Hearing is usually scheduled about six months after request.
10. Finalizing of The Divorce
After the hearing, the court decides on the case after a review of the evidence brought forth. The final ruling often comes weeks after the trial. The divorce is only complete after the judge signs a Decree of Divorce.
Online Divorce in Virginia
If you have an uncontested divorce case and are looking for an inexpensive divorce, you can file online.
The online services can help you navigate Virginia’s complex divorce process for a quick and stress-free dissolution. Online divorce is the perfect solution for couples that agree on the terms of a divorce and are looking to save money.
Preparation of divorce documents in Virginia can be done online from the comfort of your home.
Requirements For Filing an Online Divorce
The spouse filing a divorce must meet the residency requirements in Virginia.
If you have minor children, you must be separated from your spouse for six months. If there are no minor children, you must have separated from your spouse uninterrupted for at least one year.
Do you still need to go to court?
You can choose to have an in-person hearing in court or hearing by affidavit or deposition.
Online Divorce Process
- Preparation of The Bill of Complaint – Prepare a bill of complaint online by filling an online questionnaire. You will receive a case number after it is accepted into official records.
- Serving Your Spouse – The spouses must show proof of filing and receipt of the papers. The service would be complete if your spouse received the divorce papers at least seven days before the hearing.
- Waiver of Notice – A Waiver of Notice must be obtained after service to confirm that the spouse has no objection to proceeding with the divorce process. Then, the notice is submitted to the court.
- Documentation of Property Settlement – Complete the preparation of a settlement agreement, including alimony, spousal support, child support, and custody and visitation.
- Schedule Final Hearing – The divorce hearing is scheduled after the couple has signed the separation agreement. You also have the option of hearing through an affidavit and deposition. Some counties in Virginia require that the plaintiff appears with a witness. The witness is expected to answer questions on your separation, your address, confirmation of residence, presence of children, and confirmation that one of the spouses intended a permanent separation.
- Signing of Decree of Divorce – If the court is satisfied, the Decree of Divorce is signed, and your marriage is dissolved legally.
Collaborating Witness Affidavit
Effective July 1, 2021, a collaborating witness will no longer be required for a no-fault divorce process.
To obtain a final fault or a final no-fault divorce order, you should have a witness to testify specific facts about your marriage. The collaborating witness may not need to appear in court but can sign a witness affidavit in the presence of the Notary Public.
The collaborating witness affidavit will:
- Verify if one of the spouses has been convicted of a felony or incarcerated.
- Confirm that they are of legal age and don’t suffer from any condition that renders them legally incompetent.
- Support evidence provided in the divorce grounds complaint or counterclaim.
- Verify if there are children adopted and born in the marriage.
- Verify the residency of either party in Virginia at the time of filing.
- Verify six months or one-year separation of the spouses before filing depending on the existence of minor children.
The statute for collaborating witnesses was established to eliminate the conspiracy of spouses and the court to proceed with a divorce without adhering to legal requirements.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in Virginia?
Your divorce case timeline depends on how you file the case.
Timeline For Uncontested No-Fault Divorce
In this case, the spouses agree to divorce based on separation rather than fault, and agree on every element of the separation agreement.
It is the easiest type of divorce in Virginia, as the spouses don’t spend much time arguing their divorce issues in court. If you have no children, you must live separately for six months before filing for divorce.
If you have minor children, the separation period is at least one year before the date of filing. The filing process will take a few weeks, and the judge will process the complaint within three months of filing.
The divorce process ends as soon as the judge signs the Decree of Divorce. To complete the process, it may take an estimate of seven to 15 months. However, if a couple meets all the separation requirements, the process will only take one to three months.
Timeline For a Contested Divorce
A contested divorce occurs when spouses disagree on elements of the divorce agreement. They are required to appear before a judge to work out the contention.
The process is time-consuming.
The spouses must meet the six-month separation requirement if they have no minor children and a one-year separation if minor children exist. Depending on the circumstances of the contention, the process may take several years before completion.
Timeline For Fault-Based Divorce in Virginia
Fault-based divorce occurs on grounds such as adultery, cruelty, abandonment, and felony conviction.
The petitioner must provide convincing evidence of the grounds of divorce, which can make the divorce process lengthy. However, a fault-based divorce can be filed faster than a no-fault-based divorce since grounds like adultery don’t need the six-month separation period.
The timeline will depend on how easy you can prove the grounds.
Tips To Shorten the Divorce Timeline
Depending on the nature of your divorce, it can take a few months to several years. To speed up the process, keep the following in mind:
- Prepare – Preparing in advance will speed up the process. Prepare documents for the discovery process like financial statements and records of assets and get a good divorce attorney to guide the process. A divorce can be expensive and financial constraints can slow down the process. Save money to invest in a good lawyer to shorten the overall divorce timeline.
- Use an Attorney – A divorce attorney understands the most recent divorce laws and paperwork requirements. In addition, they will help you avoid errors that can slow down the process and mediate on your behalf for a timely verdict.
- Understand the Different Types Of Divorce – Understand the timeline benefits of the different divorce types and pick one that takes the least time to complete.
- Meet the Separation Requirements Before Filing – The process will be much faster if you have already met the filing requirements for divorce in Virginia. Suppose you have minor children, separate from your spouse, uninterrupted for at least one year. If you have no minor children, separate for six months before filing for divorce. Ensure you also meet the residency requirements to avoid complications.
Divorce Costs in Virginia
The cost of a divorce in Virginia depends on the complexity of your case and the type of divorce. In addition, the fee structure of your attorney can affect the overall costs.
Divorce comes with financial stress due to associated costs. Having an estimate of the overall cost will help you prepare in advance.
The total cost of divorce in Virginia constitutes attorney’s fees and other filing expenses.
The Cost of a Contested Divorce Vs. An Uncontested Divorce
The overall cost of a contested divorce in Virginia ranges between $11,000- $30,000 per person. A contested divorce is pricier due to the additional court filing fees apart from the lawyer’s retainer.
An uncontested divorce will cost less as the attorney’s retainer often covers the entire case. This can cost between $2000 – $5000, inclusive of an attorney’s retainer fees.
The court fee for an uncontested divorce in Virginia is roughly $90. However, depending on the complexity of a contested case, the court fees can be as high as $10,000.
Attorney fees constitute a retainer required to start your case and the hourly rate for the time a lawyer spends on your case.
On average, divorce lawyers in Virginia have an hourly rate of j $280 and $330. The retainer fee for an uncontested divorce costs an average of $2,500 and $5,000.
A contested divorce retainer fee can range between $7,000 and $ 10,000. However, the overall attorney costs for an uncontested divorce will be lower since less time will be spent on your case.
For an uncontested divorce in Virginia, the overall litigation costs are about $5,000 and $10,000 for a contested divorce. The hourly fees will be factored in the general litigation costs.
Mediation (Reduce Costs)
If ordered by the court, mediation will cost nothing.
If not ordered by a judge, the hourly cost of mediation is around $300. This cost is shared between the spouses, so each party could end up paying $150 per hour.
Online Divorce Service
The online divorce filing fee in Virginia is about $91.
Factors That Affect the Cost of Divorce In Virginia
The cost of divorce in Virginia varies with several factors.
Factors that will increase your cost of divorce:
- Having children – Spouses with children have additional issues to resolve, such as visitation, child custody, and support. These call for additional court and attorney fees due to the extra time spent in court. Contention over custody of children may require the intervention of experts like a psychiatrist to give insights into the suitability of awarding a spouse custody. Unfortunately, involving expert witnesses attracts additional expenses.
- Alimony disputes – Alimony disputes are expensive. The cost will depend on the type of alimony requested by a spouse. Spouses often fight requests for permanent alimony, which increases attorney and experts fees as many hours are spent preparing for hearings.
- High net worth – The total cost of divorce may be higher with a high net worth. Complex asset division requires more attorney and expert hours. During the evaluation of the value of assets, spouses may have conflicting opinions, dragging out the process and increasing attorney fees. Dissolution of assets through sale may come with substantial tax bills.
- The attorney you hire – The kind of attorney you hire will affect your overall divorce costs. For instance, an incompetent attorney can drag you into a trial making the process more expensive. They can also drag the process, attracting high hourly fees.
Ways to lower the cost of your divorce:
- Use associates or paralegals – Partners charge more hourly fees compared to associates and paralegals. If possible, use skilled associates to lower your attorney fees.
- Choose inexpensive communication – In-person and phone call communication with your attorney can be billed in hours. Through email, you can communicate clearly and concisely to save time and costs.
- Avoid trials if possible – An out-of-court divorce option is less expensive. Consider mediation and collaborative divorce to avoid court fees and additional attorney fees. Going to court should be the last resort.
- Stay organized – Organizing your financial records will lower the expenses of the discovery process. However, if an expert or a lawyer organizes your financial information, you will pay by the hour, increasing your overall divorce costs.
- Agree to disagree with your spouse – Agreeing on specific issues of the divorce will eliminate the need for the court’s intervention which comes at an extra cost. In addition, agreeing on issues like visitation, child support and custody, and asset division will reduce legal support fees.
- Educate yourself – Educate yourself on the divorce process to reduce the time your lawyer will spend educating you.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Custody Considerations in Virginia
When spouses cannot agree on child custody, the court is tasked with making custody and visitation decisions. The court makes the decision based on the best interest of the child.
Types Of Custody
The state of Virginia recognizes physical custody and legal custody.
Physical custody is where the child lives. The spouse with legal custody of the child has decision-making rights regarding the child’s religion, socialization, education, and healthcare.
The court can further distinguish custody as sole custody and joint custody.
Sole custody means only one parent has custody, whereas, in joint custody, the parents share custody.
Sole custody means one parent has the responsibility of care and control of the child. The child resides with the parent with custody. The non-custodial parent may, however, have certain visitation rights.
Joint custody in Virginia may mean:
- Both parents can share custodial and physical care of the child.
- Both parents have joint decision-making authority and control of the child even if the child’s residence is with one parent.
Standards Used to Determine The Best Interest Of The Child
The state of Virginia uses the following factors:
- The nature of the existing relationship between the parent and the child.
- The age, the mental and physical condition of the parents.
- Child’s preference.
- The age and the mental and physical condition of the child. The child’s changing developmental needs are considered to determine the most suitable parent to cater to them.
- History of abuse.
- The parent’s role in the child’s upbringing.
- The parent’s propensity to resolve disputes. The court will evaluate the spouses’ willingness to maintain a relationship with the child and support the child’s contact with the other parent.
- Adjustment to community or school.
When Is Child Custody Decided?
After assessing the factors of the children's best interests, the court decides custody of the parties.
Even if the parties agree on the custody, the court has to decide whether the agreement meets the children’s best interests.
If the parties have no agreement, custody is decided after a court hearing where the parties are allowed to testify and produce evidence.
Modification Of Custody
Custody in Virginia can be modified after a court order. However, the parties have to prove a material change in circumstances. Reasons for modification of custody order include:
- If a parent’s lifestyle is a hazard to the child. For instance, drug abuse, poor living conditions, domestic violence, and criminal activity.
- Involuntary relocation of a parent.
- Material change in the child’s needs or relationship with the parent.
Can You File for Custody?
To file a custody petition in court, you have to pay a filing fee of $25. In addition, there is an additional cost for serving the other party with custody papers. If you are unable to pay the filing fee, you can request a waiver.
A hearing will be scheduled, and the judge will issue a final custody order based on present evidence.
Child Support Considerations in Virginia
Even after divorce, parents are obliged to support the upbringing of the child. A child support order helps meet the financial needs of raising a child.
The state of Virginia has child support guidelines that determine how much a spouse is supposed to pay.
Considerations made in determining the amount of child support.
- The number of children the parties have together.
- The pre-tax income of the parties.
- Number of children the parties are supporting from other relationships.
- The health insurance cost of the children.
- Overall childcare cost.
- Custodial arrangements between the parties
Eligibility Of Child Support in Virginia
The recipient of child support will continue receiving support:
- Until the child turns 18 or is still in high-school, and lives at home.
- The child is beyond 18 years old but is unable to support themselves due to disability.
Child support in Virginia is computed according to Virginia Child Support Guidelines.
Parent Exemptions for Paying Child Support
Exemptions from presumptive minimum child support include:
- Inability to pay support due to lack of sufficient financial assets.
- Institutionalization of a parent in a psychiatric facility.
- Medically verified to be permanently disabled and unable to produce income.
Factors That Can Influence Child Support
Increase child support
- The cost of custodial arrangements like visitation travel can affect child support.
- Debt of either party arises during the marriage for the child’s benefit, such as tuition fee loan.
- Capital gains such as ones arising from the sale of the parties’ marital home.
- Special needs of a child resulting from an existing emotional, medical or physical condition of the child.
- Standards of living for the child or children set during the marriage.
- A high earning capacity of a parent or financial resources can increase the amount of child support paid.
Reduce child support
- Adjustments in cost of living clauses can decrease the amount of support paid every year.
- New family responsibilities for a parent, like the support of new children, can decrease child support to ensure the party has enough money to support other children.
- The loss of a job or decrease in income caused by factors like disability can reduce child support.
A child support order can be modified if circumstances change. For instance, if a parent remarries, increase or decrease of income, and permanent life change such as the disability of a parent.
What Is Included in The Child Support Order?
A support order includes education expenses, health insurance, monetary support for clothing, food and shelter, childcare expenses, and visitation travel costs.
- The income of the parents.
- The presence of other children being supported.
- Overall childcare costs.
Alimony Considerations in Virginia
In Virginia, spousal support issues when parties married for a significant length of time have a substantial income gap. Therefore, spousal support in Virginia is only awarded to eligible parties.
Eligibility For Spousal Support in Virginia
The state of Virginia does not discriminate against gender when determining alimony. However, the party seeking support must prove financial need to qualify for spousal support.
Types Of Alimony in Virginia
- Fixed alimony – Fixed alimony cannot be modified regardless of change of circumstances.
- Temporary alimony – Temporary alimony is awarded during a pending case in court to facilitate the financial needs of a spouse while awaiting final judgment.
- Technical alimony – Technical alimony can be modified if the separation agreement states adjustments in payment can be made depending on certain circumstances.
- Permanent alimony – Spousal support payment is made indefinitely and is terminated upon the remarriage or death of the dependent spouse.
Considerations Made by The Court Before Awarding Alimony
The court considers the following factors to determine the type, duration, and amount of alimony awarded:
- Standard of living set during the marriage to determine an amount that will support a realistic lifestyle change after the marriage's dissolution.
- The duration of the marriage, the interdependence of the parties, and the establishment of their lifestyle. Long-standing marriages are more likely to be awarded spousal support.
- Monetary and non-monetary contributions made by the parties for the well-being of the family.
- Grounds for divorce; if the party seeking spousal support committed adultery, they are less likely to be awarded alimony.
- Age and the mental and physical condition of the parties.
- The earning capacity, education, skills, and employability of the parties.
- The ability of the party whom spousal support is ought to meet their needs alongside those of their spouse.
Factors That Can Impact Alimony Payment in Virginia
- Standards of living – If the living standards established during the marriage were expensive, then the dependent spouse is likely to receive high spousal support.
- Marriage duration – A large amount of alimony is more likely to be paid if the marriage is long-standing.
- Financial resources – The financial needs of one party and the ability of the other party to meet the spousal support request will determine the amount the court will award. Therefore, the financial resources of both parties are evaluated before the verdict. A spouse with a rewarding career may pay a high alimony amount.
- Parenting responsibilities – A more considerable amount of spousal support is likely to be paid to a dependent with future parental responsibilities. For instance, if the children reside with the parent or they have sole custody.
- Grounds of divorce – The court can use grounds such as adultery to determine the spousal award amount. If the spouse to whom alimony is being sought committed adultery, they may have to pay higher spousal support.
- Age – Younger recipients may have a shorter alimony duration and a lower amount if they are considered capable of becoming financially sound. The decision is based on the skills, education, and employability of the recipient. They could receive alimony payments for rehabilitative practices like the completion of vocational training or education.
Division of Assets
The state of Virginia uses the equitable distribution system to divide assets during a divorce. The court only steps in if the couple cannot agree outside of the court.
Separate vs. Marital property in Virginia
During a divorce, confusion may arise on individual and shared assets.
Separate property in Virginia includes:
- Assets acquired before the marriage
- Property received as inheritance or gift during the marriage
- Property acquired through the sale of individual property or assets.
Marital property in Virginia includes:
- Assets such as homes, vehicles, and earnings acquired throughout the marriage of a couple.
Considerations Made for Fair and Equitable Division Of Property
The state of Virginia law requires the court to make the following considerations in the division of assets during a divorce:
- The length of the marriage
- The contribution of the spouses to the attainment and care of the marital assets.
- The spouses’ debts and liabilities.
- Circumstances of the acquisition of the assets.
- Tax consequences
- Each party’s contribution to the well-being of the family
- Grounds of the divorce
How Can a Divorcing Couple in Virginia Divide Assets on Their Own?
Spouses have the opportunity to decide the division of their assets without the court. However, the divorcing couple is required to resolve the division of assets and memorialize the terms in a settlement agreement before filing for divorce.
The Court Process for The Division of Assets In Virginia
If a couple cannot agree on the division of property, the court will decide through a trial. There are two main steps for an equitable division of assets in a Virginia divorce.
1. Categorization of assets
Identify assets that will be divided during the divorce. Start by classifying the assets as separate, marital, and hybrid.
Either of the parties acquires separate assets before marriage, and they may include personal injury settlements, inheritance, and heirlooms, among other assets.
Marital assets are jointly owned, and their acquisition was between the date of marriage and separation.
Mixed or hybrid property is partially separate and marital.
Classify all the property that matters under the highlighted categories, and share with your divorce lawyer to finalize value entry.
2. Value the marital and mixed assets
The state of Virginia courts cannot divide separate assets during a divorce. Valuing the property involves agreeing with your spouse the value of the listed assets and convincing the court the property is worth the value you claim.
Common Properties to Value
If you own any form of real estate, you can hire an appraiser to value the property or use previous property tax information to determine the value of the assets.
401k, IRA, Investments
401k, IRA, and Investments in Virginia can be considered marital assets. Value retirement plans and stock investments to help the court determine how to divide the accounts.
The court considers factors such as each spouse’s standards of living, income or earning potential, and savings.
The contribution plans will be divided according to the duration of your marriage. For instance, if your spouse had the retirement account for 30 years and you were married for 15 years, only the 15 years contribution will be divided as marital property during the divorce.
An accountant or financial analyst can help value stock investments.
The court considers the intrinsic value of a business to determine distribution. Some of the approaches used include market valuation, asset valuation, and income excess earning.
The spouse owning the business does not have to share operating with their spouse or selling the business. However, they can pay an amount equal to a portion of the business value to the spouse as part of the asset settlement.
Any other property like art, pets, tickets, and sports memorabilia can be divided during the divorce even if they don’t have a monetary value.
Division Of Property
After categorizing, classifying, and valuing property, the court will ensure fair and equitable distribution.
Common-Law Marriage Considerations in Virginia
The state of Virginia does not recognize common-law marriages. However, the state acknowledges common-law marriages that were created in other states.
Common law marriages occur when two people consider themselves married without a marriage certificate or a formal ceremony. When common-law marriages come to an end in Virginia, the couples must go through the state of Virginia divorce process.
Alternatives To Divorce in Virginia
Considering alternatives to divorce could result in reconciliation and time and cost savings. The common alternatives to divorce include legal separation, annulment, working it out together, counseling, open marriage, and parenting marriage.
Spouses in Virginia must meet separation requirements for a no-fault divorce. Living apart provides room for the spouses to consider reconciliation. If it is not possible, they proceed to file a complaint.
In other states, spouses can request the court for legal separation and enjoy divorce rights without divorcing legally.
Legal separation is not available In Virginia, and the only way to enjoy the rights is by filing for divorce.
Spouses in Virginia can request a bed and board divorce to avoid divorce-related issues and religious objections. The grounds for a divorce from bed and board include cruelty, bodily harm, and willful desertion.
The court gives a limited divorce whereby it can award spousal support, child custody, and divide assets while the couple remains legally married. Then, after 12 months, the court can issue an absolute divorce that allows the couple to remarry.
Annulment in Virginia is the end of an invalid marriage. You can seek an annulment instead of a divorce in Virginia on the following grounds:
- Bigamy – whereby your spouse had a husband or wife at the time of marriage.
- Fraud – You agreed to marry due to your spouse’s deception.
- Felon or prostitute – One spouse did not know the other was a felon or prostitute.
- Child by a different person – This is when a spouse has a child with another person. That is within ten months of marriage or at the time of the marriage.
- Incest – If the spouses are related.
- Impotence – The spouse is impotent and unable to engage in sexual relations.
- Underage – One spouse is under the legal age for marriage in Virginia
- Duress – whereby one spouse married through force or fear.
How To File for Annulment in Virginia
You must file a Complaint for Annulment in your county’s Circuit Court.
The residency requirements provide that either spouse must have lived in Virginia for at least six months. Therefore, you can only request the court to award child custody, visitation, and support in your complaint.
Upon filing the complaint, serve it to your spouse through the superior court clerk’s office.
A hearing will be scheduled to prove ground for annulment, and if the court is satisfied, your marriage will be annulled.
Children from annulled marriages in Virginia are deemed legitimate and can inherit from their parents. They also have rights to financial support, and the court can decide visitation, custody, and child support.
A judge cannot order spousal support in Virginia.
Work It Out Together
In the heat of the moment, it is easy for couples to suggest divorce. However, after cooling down and communicating, couples may realize a divorce may not be necessary.
Working through differences together is an alternative to divorce. Couples can give themselves time to evaluate if they can talk and work out their differences before filing for divorce.
A divorce can be an emotional rollercoaster that also features financial stress. As a result, many couples in Virginia try to fix their marriages through counseling before settling for divorce.
Unresolved conflicts, prolonged fights, and infidelity may drive spouses to think they should end their marriage. The decision to divorce is, however, a drastic step to deal with an unhappy marriage. In addition, it can negatively affect your children, finances, assets, and future relationships.
Before making the final decision, consider counseling to repair the marriage through improved communication, resolving past and underlying issues, restoring love, and restoring intimacy.
A marriage counselor will help you assess whether divorce is the most appropriate response by highlighting the process's common side effects and implications. Through this approach, you can save your marriage and make things better.
Considering a divorce can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.
If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.
Monogamy is the only legally accepted marriage in the state of Virginia.
Some couples go for open marriages to save their marriage. If your divorce is motivated by the loss of desire for your partner or unfulfilled needs, open marriage can be an alternative to divorce.
Some couples feel that an open marriage can make their relationship stronger by reducing the pressure on their partner to satisfy sexual and attention needs.
Open marriage can also eliminate the emotional impact of cheating, as it creates an honest situation where the partners don’t need to lie or hide.
Can Open Marriage Affect Divorce?
It does not affect divorce as the spouses agree to the arrangement. The ground of adultery may therefore not apply.
READ MORE: Dating While Going Through a Divorce
Instead of going through the divorce process, choose parenting marriage and raise your children together with your spouse without necessarily having a romantic relationship.
Create a cooperative relationship with your spouse to create a healthy environment for your children. A parenting marriage will require proper planning, communication, and a high level of trust. For instance, you should have an agreement on financial commitments, your living situation, and other basic rules.
A parenting marriage can be challenging for the spouses but has many benefits for the family and children.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.