A Guide to Divorce in Virginia
This guide will help you understand many of the rules and procedures for getting a divorce in Virginia. The goal is to equip you with important information you’ll need to help you save time, money and stress from start to finish.
Because you will have many questions along the way, you should also seek answers through other sources such as a family law attorney, your county courthouse, friends and relatives who have gone through a divorce, and online resources to help you deal with a variety of financial, social and emotional challenges.
Specifically, in this guide, we’ll cover the differences between divorce and legal separation, types of divorce, overview of the process, how much it costs, and a whole lot more.
So if you want to make sure your desires and rights are well protected, we’ve got you covered.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?
- What kind of divorce is right for you?
- The process of filing for divorce in Virginia
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in Virginia without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost?
- How long does it take to get a divorce in Virginia?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status in Virginia
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Virginia?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is proof of divorce?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources
The differences between legal separation, annulment and divorce
Spouses can end their marriages through divorce or annulment in Virginia. In some states, couples may also change their marital relationship through legal separation, but in Virginia legal separation is technically not allowed.
In states that allow it, legal separation is a means to live independently from each other, dividing assets, and settling issues such as child custody, alimony, support and other related issues. It is similar to a divorce, but there is no actual divorce.
Virginia does not allow legal separation as an option, but if spouses are living separately and one spouse wants support or other relief, they can file for separate maintenance.
Keep in mind that one of the requirements for getting a divorce in Virginia is that you have to live separately for a year to qualify. This period can be reduced to six months if you have not children and you have executed a separation agreement. It’s important to understand that living separately is not the same as legal separation.
Annulments are allowed in Virginia as long as a there is a legal ground for the action, but they are granted far less frequently than divorces. An annulment ends an invalid marriage vs. a divorce which ends a valid marriage.
The legal grounds by which an annulment may be granted in Virginia include:
- Prostitution or felony
- Child by another person
- Sham marriage
To seek an annulment, you must file a Complaint for Annulment in the county where you or your spouse lives. In addition, you must have lived in the state and in the county where you’re filing for at least six months as well. A hearing will be scheduled at which time you will need to prove the legal grounds for your annulment.
In Virginia, a divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final decree is issued by the court.
What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?
Virginia allows both a no-fault option or fault-based option as grounds for a divorce.
To move forward with a no-fault divorce, a couple only needs to prove that they lived apart for a continuous period of at least one year. The amount of time may be reduced to six months if a couple has prepared a separation agreement and there are no minor children from the marriage.
A fault-based divorce is generally more contentious and requires proving one of the allowable reasons based on marital misconduct. It is also an option for couples who want to move forward with a divorce but who have not met the separation requirement under a no-fault situation.
The fault-based grounds for divorce in Virginia are:
- Conviction of a felony
- Adultery, sodomy or buggery (having sexual relations with an animal). A divorce cannot be granted for this reason if the spouse knew about this conduct but continued to live and have sexual relations with the guilty spouse.
- Cruelty by one spouse that causes the other to be in reasonable fear of bodily harm
- Willful desertion or abandonment of at least one year
What are your options for divorce in Virginia?
It is in your best interests to fully understand all of your options when you are thinking about getting a divorce. The path that you ultimately take will be determined by the relationship you have with your spouse.
Deciding whether to pursue an uncontested divorce in Virginia or attempting to negotiate a settlement through a cooperative effort of some sort could save you a lot time and money, making it easier for you to transition to life as a single person.
Here are the types of divorce:
What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, though. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist.
Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: What Are the Types of Divorce?
What is the process of filing for divorce in Virginia?
You can go through a divorce or separation process in many ways in Virginia, but the basic elements are pretty much the same no matter process you choose.
Gather important information
When it comes to gathering the information you need, it’s imperative to be organized and proactive. This will give you the best chance at receiving the best possible outcome for your divorce.
Not only will this ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process, but it will also save you time, anxiety, and money (which you’ll want to save for the next parts of your divorce).
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is only a partial list. You can check out the complete divorce document checklist here. This will be crucial as you go about filing your forms.
Complete the initial paperwork
To start a divorce in Virginia, you or your spouse must 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 submit it as well.
File your forms
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.
Completing proof of service in Virginia
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.
Can you file for 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. This can save time and money, especially in an uncontested divorce.
Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.
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They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.
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- $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
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- Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
- Immediate access to completed forms
- Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)
3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).
You can learn more by reading our 3StepDivorce review.
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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 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.
Can you 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.
How much will it cost?
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.
Any other costs should be minimal in an uncontested divorce. But if you and your spouse can’t agree on how to settle all the issues, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that could range between $200 to $500 per hour. Expect to also have to pay some sort of retainer up front as well.
If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more. In some cases, a judge may require a couple to go through mediation as part of the divorce process.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
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.
Working with a certified divorce financial analyst?
Every divorce has financial issues that need to be addressed. In some cases, a family law attorney can provide all the information you need.
But if you have a degree of financial complexity, you should consider working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA).
A CDFA can help you understand the long-term impact of your decisions so you can weigh the pros and cons. In fact, working with a CDFA can actually lower the cost of your divorce (by giving you more clarity to make decisions which cuts down on the back-and-forth negotiations).
Bifurcation of marital status in Virginia
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce. The marriage is terminated at that point.
Bifurcation means that the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or that have become major sticking points will be finalized at a later date.
Virginia will allow bifurcation to take place but consider it not a matter of right nor should it be a common practice. As such, courts are given wide discretion to grant bifurcation in irregular situations and when it is necessary to achieve equity
Spouses in Virginia who pursue this option must understand they could incur more legal bills going this route and that because some of the incentives to resolve differences are removed by bifurcation, a final settlement could take much longer.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Virginia?
You cannot stop someone who wants to divorce you. The best you can hope to do is slow the process down by contesting the divorce, but ultimately, it will take place if at least one party wants it to happen.
If you are the one who petitioned for the divorce and you change your mind, it may be possible to stop the process before a divorce has been finalized. You will need to go to the court where you filed the papers and ask to have your complaint dismissed. Most times, the process will be simple with a one or a two page form at most that must be completed and filed with the court.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce degree is a legal document that establishes proof that a divorce is final in Virginia. It officially terminates a marriage and a husband and wife’s legal obligations to each other.
The decree is a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. It also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
If either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is a divorce certificate?
The Virginia Department of Health, Division of Vital Records issues certified copies of divorce records for divorces that took place in the state. A divorce certificate contains much less information than a divorce decree and can be used as acceptable proof of divorce for this such as a name change and other legal purposes.
The divorce documents can be requested through mail, express delivery through VitalChek, by visiting the Office of Vital Records in person or at a full-service DMV office. You can also access the same service at Virginia DMV 2 Go which are mobile offices or by visiting a DMV customer service center.
The Office of Vital Records is located at 2001 Maywill Street in Richmond, Virginia 23230.
The turnaround for receiving you’re a certified copy if you apply by mail is estimated to be between a week to two weeks. People are urged that they allow the authorities sufficient time for delivery of the documents.
You can also request a certified copy of a divorce decree by visiting the Vital Records Office. When ordering the copy, you will be handed an application which you must complete and pay the standard fee of $12 for processing the request.
For more information, you can call the Office of Vital Records at (804) 662-6200.
Changing Your Name
You will be presented either an option to restore your former name or request a court order for changing names when preparing your divorce forms.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You can choose to receive a separate court order to make your name change official, or you can have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are acceptable for all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
It takes a long time to reach out to each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Online dating after divorce
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more