What You Need to Know About Divorce in Virginia

Is Virginia a fault or no-fault state?

Virginia is a hybrid divorce state, meaning you can file for a fault or no-fault divorce. A fault divorce can be more difficult to prove in a divorce, but this is an option in Virginia.

Do you need a reason to file for divorce in Virginia?

You must have “grounds” for filing for a divorce in Virginia. Grounds can include adultery, felony, cruelty, separation, or desertion.

What is Virginia’s requirement for abandonment?

Abandonment or willful desertion is when one spouse breaks off the marriage by leaving with no intent on returning for at least a year. If a spouse leaves because they are experiencing cruelty, the divorce may qualify for the abuse ground rather than abandonment.

How does Virginia divide assets in a divorce?

Virginia is an equitable distribution state, meaning if the couple cannot agree on splitting assets, the court will. The court sees equitable distribution as dividing assets “fairly.”

Does Virginia require any documents before one files for divorce?

You or your spouse must live in Virginia for at least the last six months.

To file for a divorce in Virginia with children, spouses must separate for at least one year before filing papers. If spouses do not have children, they must separate for at least six months and write a Property Settlement Agreement.

Related: Virginia Child Support FAQs

Do I need a lawyer to get a divorce in Virginia?

One can represent themself in a divorce case, but an attorney can help mitigate child custody, spousal support, property distribution, and other substantial issues. The courts cannot give advice or guidance on your case.

What are Virginia’s divorce types?

Virginia recognizes divorce types:

Divorce from Bed and Board

  • Desertion or abandonment
  • Cruelty and reasonable apprehension of bodily harm

Divorce from the Bond of Matrimony

No-Fault Divorce: the couple must separate for a year

Adultery

Does Virginia have equitable distribution?

Virginia has an “equitable distribution of property” to split up assets in a divorce. Equitable distribution means a judge will distribute assets equitably, but not equally between the two spouses.

Property spouses obtain during the marriage or own jointly is marital property and splits evenly.
However, separate property is an asset a spouse owns before marriage or inherits separately. Separate property remains with the spouse who owns it.

Parties can have a Property Settlement Agreement instead of relying on the court to divide their assets. The contract includes the parties’ preference on property division, child custody, child support, and attorney’s fees. Couples should draw up an agreement amicably to alleviate some of the court’s decision-making power.

Related: Virginia Divorce Laws: The Basics

What does a judge consider when determining alimony/spousal support?

  • Length of marriage
  • Standard of living
  • Each spouse’s financial resources
  • Age, physical/mental conditions, special circumstances
  • Marital property division
  • Employment opportunities, including training or education
  • Decisions about careers and parenting responsibilities made during the marriage
  • Circumstances contributing to the divorce
  • Retirement funds, pension, and other property or resources each party owns

Where do I go to file for a divorce?

One can file divorce papers at the Virginia Circuit Court where one party lives or both parties previously lived together. The filing party must write the complaint in the correct legal format.

What filing steps and documents does Virginia require?

  1. Complaint: informs the court of your request
  2. Serve papers: the spouse receives formal notice of the complaint
  3. Plaintiff Affidavit: proves you are entitled to a divorce
  4. Order to Restore Former Name: you can include an Order Restoring Name Change with your court documents if you choose to return to your maiden name
  5. Final Decree: the final divorce order and may include child custody, property division, child support, or other details.
  6. Attachments: include any previous Property Settlement Agreement or Separation Agreement
  7. Finalization: the divorce is complete when the judge signs the Final Decree

Can I get an annulment in Virginia?

Yes, you can get an annulment in Virginia. An annulment means the court can void a marriage and deem it not legal in the first place.

Reasons for annulment include:

  • Incest
  • Lying about reproductive capabilities
  • One spouse was already married to someone else
  • Lack of consent to the marriage or one spouse was too young for marriage
  • One spouse was of unsound mind or under the influence at the time of the marriage
  • One spouse threatened the other into a marriage

How long do spouses need to separate to divorce in Virginia?

Depending on the circumstances, a couple must separate for 6 to 12 months to get a divorce. If a couple has a minor child, they must separate for 12 months to obtain a divorce. If the couple has no minor children and a separation agreement is in place, the couple can seek divorce after six months.

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

After the filing party files all necessary paperwork, it takes 30-90 to finalize the divorce. If the divorce is uncontested, a Virginia court may finalize the divorce in 30 days. If the divorce is contested and presents many disagreements, the case may take longer.

Do I need to legally separate from my spouse to get a divorce in Virginia?

Spouses do not need to legally separate to divorce in Virginia. However, spouses must physically separate for at least six months to a year before filing.

Do I have to go to court to get a divorce?

An uncontested divorce does not require a court hearing. However, parties may need to take a trip to a county office to sign papers and interview. Once parties sign and file the Waiver of Service of Process Form, affidavits, Final Decree of Divorce, and Property Settlement Agreement, the court will process the divorce.

What if I cannot find my spouse to serve the divorce papers?

If you cannot locate your spouse, the court will “serve” the papers via publication. Service via publication means Virginia will serve the divorce papers and post them in local courthouses and newspapers. If your spouse does not respond within 30 days, the divorce proceedings will still continue.

What if my spouse does not want a divorce?

If your spouse does not want a divorce, you can still obtain one. In a fault divorce case, the court will summon your spouse. You can strengthen your divorce case if you and your spouse live separately for a year or more.

How long do I have to live in Virginia to get a divorce?

One spouse must live in Virginia for at least six months to divorce through a Virginia court. Virginia must be one’s permanent place of residence.

Where can I file a divorce complaint?

You may file a divorce complaint at the Circuit Court Clerk’s office in the county courthouse where you or your spouse reside.

Does Virginia permit common-law marriages?

Virginia prohibits common-law marriages. A common law marriage occurs when a couple lives together and presents themselves as a married couple without a legal marriage or ceremony.

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