The Divorce Process in Virginia - FAQs
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about getting a divorce in Virginia.
Does Virginia have a residency requirement for divorce?
Yes. At least one spouse must have lived in Virginia for six months before either spouse can file for divorce in the state. Members of the armed forces satisfy the residency requirement if they are stationed in Virginia for at least six months, including living on a ship with a Virginia home port or living on a federally controlled air, naval, or military base located within Virginia. Members of the armed forces who are stationed outside of the U.S. can meet the residency requirement by showing they lived in Virginia for six months immediately before the foreign assignment began.
Do we need a lawyer if we agree on everything in the divorce?
If you have a fairly simple case and you and your spouse do agree on everything, you can represent yourself, which is called proceeding "pro se." If you do decide to represent yourself however, the judge will expect you to comply with the same rules that an attorney would have to follow.
However, some cases are more complicated, such as those that involve an emotional custody battle or a complex financial analysis. And even with simple cases, legal paperwork and a settlement agreement will need to be drawn up, preferably by someone who's got experience doing so. Thus, it’s always a good idea to get legal advice, because the decisions you make in your divorce will have important, long-term consequences that may not be immediately obvious. You and your spouse can’t use the same lawyer either, even if you agree on everything.
Does Virginia have "no-fault" divorce?
Yes. To get a no-fault divorce in Virginia, you and your spouse must live apart from one another without interruption (no periods of living together) for at least one year. If you have no minor children and you enter into a valid separation agreement, you will only have to live apart for six months.
Does Virginia have "fault" divorce?
Yes. Fault grounds in Virginia include:
- adultery or other sexual acts outside the marriage (specifically sodomy or buggery)
- felony conviction with a sentence of at least one year and some period of actual imprisonment
- willful desertion or abandonment, and
- reasonable fear of bodily harm.
Each fault ground requires very specific proof, and there are some defenses available. For example, an innocent spouse who voluntarily lives with a guilty spouse after learning about a felony conviction or wrongful sexual acts will no longer be able to base a complaint for divorce on those grounds.
While proceeding on a fault-ground is more complicated than proceeding on the ground of separation only, there may be some cases where the proof of fault will have an effect on the division of marital property or award of alimony. If you think that there could be a benefit to choosing a fault ground in your case, contact an attorney for advice.
Are there waiting periods in addition to the residency requirements?
There is no additional waiting period after you have satisfied the separation requirements for a no-fault divorce. If you file for a fault divorce based on desertion or cruelty, you will need to live apart for one year following the desertion or cruelty before the court will finalize the divorce. There is no waiting period required for finalizing a divorce based on adultery or other sexual acts outside the marriage.
How do I actually file for divorce?
The spouse seeking the divorce (the "plaintiff") files a document called a "complaint" in the appropriate Virginia Circuit Court (generally the court in the city or county where at least one of the spouses lives), and pays the required filing fees. The complaint must include information about the date and place of the marriage; each spouse’s current living arrangements; each spouse’s military status; satisfaction of the residency requirements; the grounds for divorce; satisfaction of the separation period, if applicable; and the ages and living arrangements of any children of the marriage. The plaintiff then has to make sure the complaint and a "summons" (legal notice of the action) are "served" (delivered) on the other spouse (the "defendant"); this is usually handled by a sheriff or a private process server.
Where can I find additional information?
Check out our section on Virginia Divorce & Family Laws for information on divorce, child custody and visitation, division of marital property, alimony and more.
The Virginia Court System maintains a list of Virginia Circuit Courts with basic information, including telephone numbers and email addresses for the Court Clerks. You can contact the Clerk’s office to find out exactly what forms you need to file. The Clerk can also give you information about the current filing fees, or you can look these up on the Virginia Court System’s Circuit Court Civil Filing Fee web page. Current fees for filing a divorce complaint in Virginia, including service by the sheriff, are generally less than $100.