A Guide to Filing for Divorce in Virginia
When you don’t fully understand how the divorce process in Virginia works, the process can be especially gut wrenching and stressful. For your own self-interest, you should learn as much as you can as early in the process as possible so that you can be prepared at every step of the way.
While it’s true that every divorce in unique, there are some things that are common to most all divorces in the state.
Here are some important things to know about the filing process that will help you make better decisions going forward.
- Gather Your Important Information
- Decide How to Proceed With Your Divorce
- Fill Out the Necessary Forms
- File Your Documents
- Serving Your Spouse With Divorce Papers
- FAQs About Filing For Divorce in Virginia
Gather your important information
No matter your circumstances, you will benefit from being organized at the outset when it comes to tracking down the financial documentation that you’ll need.
Many parts of divorce can be overwhelming, so any steps you can take to save time and reduce stress and anxiety should be a priority for you early in the process.
To help you gain a better understanding of the types of documents and information you’ll need to pull together, we’ve created a great Divorce Information Checklist.
Decide how you will proceed with your divorce
The type of divorce you choose sets the tone for how you will go about reaching a resolution.
In short, you need to have a full understanding of the different types of divorce and how they will shape your settlement negotiations.
Here are a few of the most common divorce process options:
- Do-it-yourself divorce
- Collaborative divorce
You’re probably wondering which one is best. That’s not a simple answer. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
Be sure to check out our guide for an in-depth overview on The Types of Divorce. It will answer many of you questions and help you make an informed decision.
Fill Out the Necessary Forms to Start the Process
You will need to complete several forms and submit them to start your divorce. If you’re using an attorney, they will make sure you’re using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.
To start a divorce in Virginia, fill out and file a Bill of Complaint for Divorce in a county circuit court. You must make at least two copies of the complaint and submit them to the county circuit court where you or your spouse lives.
You will also need to complete a VS-4 State Statistical Form and a Cover Sheet for Filing Civil Actions and submit them. Additional forms may be required depending on your situation.
File Your Documents
After you have completed your forms, you will need to file the paperwork at the Clerk of the Court’s office in the county where you or your spouse live.
When you submit these forms, you will also need to pay a filing fee that will range from $150 to $290 depending on the county where you file. The clerk of the circuit court will review the filing and let you know if anything is missing. If approved, you will receive a civil number that will designate your case.
If you are seeking a waiver of the filing and services fees due to an inability to pay, then you will also need to complete a Petition for Proceeding in Civil Case without payment of Fees or Costs (Form CC-1414).
Serving Your Spouse
After you have filed your forms with the court, you must legally notify your spouse of your intent to divorce them. This is done through a “service of process.”
To do so, you must follow strict legal procedures by making sure they receive a copy of the complaint, an official court summons and any other documents that are relevant to your divorce.
The most common way to complete proof of service is to have a sheriff’s office or an impartial third party deliver the papers for you. You cannot do this yourself. Expect to pay a fee for the service. The amount will vary from county to county and by the method you choose but expect it to be less than $100.
Service can either be performed directly to your spouse or to a family member of your spouse’s household who is over 16 years old.
In certain cases, you can have service completed by certified mail, publication or posting as well. If papers were delivered by certified mail, a return receipt must be requested. It will need to be returned to the court as part of the proof of service.
If you are having trouble locating a spouse, it may be possible to publish a legal notice in a local newspaper. You will need to check with local newspapers to see what procedures they follow.
When complete, they will send an affidavit either to you or directly to the courthouse. One other option is that the Family Court clerk’s office may post a notice related to the divorce as a legal way of meeting the notification requirement.
After receiving the documents or once proof of service has been completed, a spouse has 21 days to file an answer with the court. If they fail to do so, they waive their service of process and automatically consent to the divorce. When this happens, the court will grant the divorce by default in most cases.
Frequently Asked Questions About Filing for Divorce in Virginia
How much does it cost to file for a divorce in Virginia?
The filing fee for a divorce in Virginia runs from $150 to $290 depending on the county where you file. In addition, you will also have to pay a fee to have your spouse served by one of several methods. Depending on the method this will run an additional $25 to $100. Most of the time, having a county sheriff complete service is the most inexpensive way to go.
Can divorce fees be waived in Virginia?
If you are not able to afford the filing fees and associated costs, it is possible to petition for a waiver of fees by also filing a Petition for Proceeding in Civil Case without payment of Fees or Costs.
Can I file for a divorce online in Virginia?
You can complete some of the process associated with filing a divorce in Virginia online. There are several firms and private attorneys who will be able to assist you by hiring them through their website and exchanging emails to complete required forms.
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However, ultimately you or your attorney will need to file the appropriate documents at the court in the county where you or your spouse live. Some forms may also need to be notarized but in many cases the court has a public notary that you can use. It’s best to check in advance.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Virginia?
In an uncontested divorce in Virginia, it is required that you live apart from your spouse for at least one year before you can file paperwork. This length of time is reduced to six months if you have no minor children and you have a signed separation agreement.
Once paperwork has been filed, it takes anywhere from 30 to 90 days for a divorce to be final. That amount of time will be dependent on the caseload of the court where you filed and the availability of a judge to review the appropriate documents and sign the final Decree of Divorce.
Contested fault-based divorces take more time, because proof of the ground being claimed requires proof to be submitted and verified.
In cases where there are disagreements about a division of assets, child support, custody, alimony and other issues, a divorce could take much longer and will be more complicated. It could take several months and possibly a year or two to reach a final settlement.
What are the residency requirements to file for a divorce in Virginia?
To file for a divorce in Virginia, at least one of the spouses must have lived in the state for at least 12 months prior to filing initial paperwork.
Can I file for divorce in Virginia without using a lawyer?
You can file for divorce in Virginia without using a lawyer as long as you meet all the pertinent requirements. Not using an attorney works best for no-fault divorces which are must less complicated than fault-based divorces. You can file a no-fault divorce as long has you have been separated for at least a year or if you and your spouse don’t have any children together and you have both signed a Separation Agreement that you have been separated for six months.
Another way to avoid using a lawyer is to agree to use the services of a mediator instead. Both spouses must agree to this option. A mediator will review financial documents, forms and worksheets as part of a discovery process and then guide you and your spouse through a series of discussions about the outstanding issues, attempting to peacefully resolve things such as child support and custody, alimony and a division of assets.
Once these issues are resolved, a mediator will draft a Memorandum of Understanding and you will file this document with the court as part of your divorce process.
Can I get a divorce in Virginia if I am pregnant?
It is possible to get a divorce in Virginia if you are pregnant. If a husband has reason to suspect that the child is not his, then it may be possible to ask the court to have a paternity test completed. This could help in a divorce if adultery is the stated fault-based ground for the divorce. If the husband is the father of the child, then part of the divorce settlement will need to include child support, custody and visitation issues to be resolved.
Although by law, courts are required to be gender neutral when it comes to custody issues, the practical reality is that a newborn will need a mother more than a father. Virginia law always defers to the “best interests of the child,” and the mother-child bond is vital in the first year.
How is my divorce affected if I am a member of the military in Virginia?
Under normal circumstances, one or both spouses must live in Virginia for at least six months and intend to stay indefinitely to establish residence prior to filing for divorce. Military members are exempted from this requirement and meet the residency requirement as long as he or she has been stationed in Virginia for at least six months regardless of whether or not they intend to stay in the state for any amount of time.
Just as in a civilian divorce, once paperwork has been filed in Virginia to begin a divorce, copies must be served on a spouse to give him or her a chance to respond. However, when that spouse is in the military, they have certain protections afforded to them by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. This allows them to postpone the divorce while they are overseas or otherwise not able to adequately respond to the petition due to military service commitments for up to 60 days after active duty has ended.
The Act eases many legal and financial burdens of military personnel and their families who face the added challenges of active duty. A service member may also choose to waive delaying the divorce by signing off on paperwork, allowing the divorce to proceed uncontested.
Child custody can be a bit complicated due to long deployments and frequent relocation. In most cases (but not always), a judge will assign full custody to the non-military spouse. In addition, Virginia courts may not even have jurisdiction over child custody.
These cases are settled in the state or country where the child lives for most of the time. This could mean custody could be settled in a court system of a foreign country, even if the child is a U.S. citizen.
Child support and alimony can be complicated due to the fact that many spouses of servicemembers must focus on their families at the expense of their own career and education. Support can be difficult to calculate as well because it could include base pay, housing allowances, hazard pay, bonuses and other non-monetary compensation.
However, both child support and spousal support awards may not exceed 60% of a military member’s pay and allowances.
Normal equitable property division laws apply for a military divorce in Virginia, but the federal government also protects military personnel through the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act that governs how military benefits are calculated when a divorce takes place.
Looking for more great tips about filing for divorce? Check out a few of our favorite resources:
- How to File for Divorce
- How Should I Prepare for Divorce
- What Are The Types of Divorce
- How Should I Prepare for Divorce