Along with the emotional stresses that come with ending a marriage, filing for divorce in Virginia can seem daunting. But depending on your situation, it doesn't have to be an ordeal.
Basically, there are three different ways of getting through the process of filing for divorce:
As we'll explain below, your choice between these options will depend on the specifics of your case as well as how much time and money you have. If you believe you can take the DIY route, here's a basic outline of the filing requirements for divorce in Virginia.
In order to get a divorce in Virginia, either you or your spouse must have been a resident in the state for at least six months just before you file your initial divorce papers. If you haven't lived in the state that long, you'll have to wait to begin your case. (Va. Code § 20-97 (2021).)
Before you file for divorce, it's important to know if you can meet the basic requirements for an uncontested divorce in Virginia. That's because the filing procedures are different for uncontested and contested divorces. Also, if you want to file for divorce online, you'll typically need an uncontested case. And even if you could file for a contested divorce on your own, you almost certainly would need a lawyer's help—if at all possible—to get through the divorce process without jeopardizing your legal rights.
In Virginia, the spouse who starts the divorce process by filing the original complaint is known as the "plaintiff." On the complaint, the plaintiff must give a legal reason (or "ground") for the request. Virginia allows both no-fault and fault-based divorce grounds. When you're filing for an uncontested divorce, however, you must list a no-fault ground—and the only no-fault grounds in the state require that the spouses have lived "separate and apart" for a continuous period of time. Normally, the separation period must be for at least a year, but it can be as short as six months if you don't have minor children and have a settlement agreement (more on that below). (Va. Code § 20-91(9) (2021).)
If you don't meet the separation requirement, you will have to either wait to file for an uncontested divorce or file for a fault-based divorce—which comes with extra requirements and almost always means a legal battle to prove that the other spouse (the "defendant") engaged in certain types of misconduct. (Learn more about the divorce grounds in Virginia and the consequences of filing for a fault-based divorce.)
In order to get an uncontested divorce, you must also have reached an agreement (known in Virginia as a "separation agreement" or "property settlement agreement") that covers the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
If you're having trouble agreeing with your spouse about any of these matters, divorce mediation can help. In mediation, a neutral, trained professional will meet with both of you and guide you through the process of finding solutions to your disputes. When the process leads to a settlement, many mediators will help you prepare a document that reflects your agreement.
If possible, it's always a good idea to have a lawyer at least review your draft separation agreement, to make sure that you haven't missed anything and that the agreement protects all of your rights. This is particularly true when you and your spouse have complex finances.
Unlike many states, Virginia does not provide official court forms for the main documents you'll need to file for divorce. Virginia Legal Aid offers a do-it-yourself divorce packet, which includes instructions for filing, as well as a link to an interactive divorce tool that will guide you through a series of questions and allow you to create documents for uncontested divorces in certain situations. The tool will inform you when you don't qualify to use those documents, based on your answers to the questions. Also, you can find some of the additional forms (mentioned below) that might accompany your main divorce documents on the Virginia Circuit Court Civil Forms page.
Virginia's circuit courts handle divorce cases. Many of the circuit courts in the state's cities and counties have their own rules, and some have their own divorce forms. So you should also check for specifics at the website of the local circuit court where you plan to file (more below on choosing where to file). If you don't see a link to divorce information on the court's main page, try a site search for "divorce" or a general search for "divorce" plus "circuit court" and the name of your county. You could instead go in person to the court clerk's office to ask about any local forms and procedures—but know that staff members may not give you legal advice.
The basic form that you'll need to prepare will be the divorce complaint, which tells the court what you're requesting in your divorce. When filing for an uncontested divorce, you will also include your settlement agreement and a proposed final divorce decree that matches the provisions in your agreement. Both spouses must sign the agreement and the proposed decree.
The easiest way to proceed with an uncontested divorce is to have your spouse agree to waive service of the divorce papers (more on that below). When you're going this route, your spouse should complete and sign the Acceptance/Waiver of Service of Process (Form CC-1406), in the presence of a notary.
After completing all the forms, make at least two copies of everything. The court will keep the originals, and each spouse should have a full set of copies.
The court where you file for divorce is known as the venue. In Virginia, you may file for divorce at the court clerk's office in any county or city in the state. However, if your spouse objects to that venue, the court might transfer the case to the county or city where:
Go in person to the court clerk's office in person to file the divorce papers. You will most likely have to pay a filing fee. These fees vary slightly between counties but are usually about $90. You can determine the exact fees in the county where you'll file by using Virginia's Circuit Court Civil Filing Fee Calculator. If you can't afford to pay the court fees, file a form to request a waiver. (For an uncontested divorce, use Form CC-1421, Petition for Proceeding in No-Fault Divorce Without Payment of Fees or Costs.)
As a general rule, you must deliver the divorce papers to your spouse through what's known as "service of process." This is usually accomplished by having a sheriff or constable hand-deliver the documents to your spouse (for a small fee). If personal service doesn't work—for instance, if your spouse lives out of state or can't be found—you may ask the court for permission to use one of the alternative methods of service.
However, if your spouse has signed the Acceptance/Waiver of Service of Process, you will not have to serve the divorce papers. You may include this signed and notarized form when you file the rest of the paperwork for an uncontested divorce. Otherwise, your spouse will need to submit the form, along with a copy of the complaint, within a reasonable amount of time afterwards. (Va. Code § 20-99.1:1 (2021).)
Once you've filed for divorce, the next steps will depend on how the initial paperwork was served and whether your case is contested or uncontested. In a contested case, your spouse should file an answer to the complaint within 21 days after service. Then, the case will usually go through discovery (the legal process for getting information from the other spouse and gathering evidence, such as reports from experts) and several court hearings.
In an uncontested case, you might be able to finalize the divorce without a court hearing, simply by submitting an affidavit and other paperwork. (Learn more about the process of getting an uncontested divorce in Virginia.)