Before you can file for divorce in Virginia, you must meet residency requirements and prepare the correct forms. You or your spouse must have lived in Virginia for at least six months prior to filing to divorce. If you haven't lived in the state for the requisite six months, you'll have to wait to begin your case. See Va. Code Ann. § 20-97 (2019).
Virginia law allows both no-fault and fault based divorces. If you meet certain requirements, you and your spouse can obtain a "no fault" divorce. To be eligible, you or your spouse must be a Virginia resident and meet the following criteria:
The separation must be continuous (without resuming living together for any amount of time) and with the intent that the separation be permanent. If you meet the above requirements, then you must follow the steps below to complete a no-fault divorce. Virginia Legal Aid publishes free no-fault divorce forms.
Fault-based divorces can be complicated and require you to prove grounds, or a reason for the divorce. If you don't meet all of the requirements or you have any questions about your case, you need to talk to a lawyer. Court clerks cannot answer questions about your particular case or your legal rights.
Each county has particular rules and some have their own divorcee forms, so check your local county court's website for specifics. Generally, it's best to type your forms and print them out on standard white paper.
The forms you must file to start the divorce are:
All of the forms will have blanks for "plaintiff" and "defendant." The spouse asking for the divorce is the "plaintiff," and the responding spouse is called the "defendant."
Some of the forms must be signed while you and/or your spouse are in front of a Notary Public. Do not sign the forms that require notarization until the person(s) required to sign are in front of a Notary Public.
After completing all the forms, make at least two copies of everything. The court will keep one, you will want one for your records, and you'll need a copy for your spouse.
You will file your divorce papers with the Circuit Court by going to the clerk of court's office in the county or city where you and your spouse last lived together or where your spouse still lives. You may use Virginia's Circuit Court Civil Filing Fee Calculator to determine your exact filing fees.
If you're unable to pay the filing fees or fees to have the papers served on your spouse, you may file a Petition for Proceeding in Civil Case Without Payment of Fes or Costs. This form is available on the Virginia Judicial System website. If your petition is granted, you will not have to pay fees associated with your case.
You must deliver copies of your divorce papers to your spouse. This delivery is called "service of process." You may serve the papers by:
Proper service of process is essential. Your spouse must receive proper notice of your divorce request in order for your case to proceed. If you have a spouse in the military, in jail, or who can't be located, different service rules may apply. You may have to ask a court for permission to serve your spouse by another method, such as publication in a local newspaper.
After you have served your spouse with copies of the divorce papers, you are ready to file a Request for Ore Tenus Hearing. An ore tenus hearing is an oral hearing in front of a judge. You may get an Ore Tenus Request form and a Final Decree of Divorce form from the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
You should submit these forms to the clerk of court, along with proof of service and your completed VS-4 Form. You must also submit a copy of a separation agreement if you and your spouse signed one.
On the date of your hearing, you must bring copies of all your documents with you to court. You must also bring one corroborating witness with you. This person must have direct personal knowledge of your marriage and circumstances related to your separation. If all legal requirements are met, the judge will grant your divorce at the ore tenus hearing and sign the final divorce decree.
See our section on Virginia Divorce and Family Laws for information and the process, and the related legal issues you'll need to consider.
For more information or to see if you qualify for additional legal assistance, contact Virginia Legal Aid at 1-866-534-5243.