Divorce is never easy, but undoubtedly some divorces are far more miserable than others. Nevertheless, not all divorces involve screaming matches and expensive lawyer bills. Uncontested divorces offer couples a better and kinder way to obtain a divorce where spouses agree on all issues in their divorce and avoid the headache and stress of attending a trial before a judge.
This article provides a general overview of the uncontested divorce process in Virginia. If you still have questions about obtaining an uncontested divorce, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
In a traditional "contested" divorce, one spouse files paperwork, the other submits a reply, and the court schedules several hearings with the judge to decide all the issues. If you and your spouse disagree on any divorce-related issue, the court considers your case "contested." Contested divorces are expensive and time-consuming, and in the end, the judge decides the most important issues for your family, whether you like it or not.
On the other hand, if spouses can agree on all divorce-related issues, including child custody, visitation, and child support, then an uncontested divorce is an expedited option for divorcing spouses where you and you decide what's best for your family. An uncontested divorce is the only way for you and your spouse to maintain control of the issues during the divorce process.
If you and your spouse wish to file for an uncontested divorce in Virginia, you must resolve the following issues before you file:
Before either spouse can request a traditional or uncontested divorce, at least one of the spouses must meet Virginia's residency requirement. Divorce law requires at least one spouse to live in the state for at least 6 months before filing for a divorce. ( Va. Code Ann. § 20-97.)
If you're requesting an uncontested divorce, you'll need to agree to seek a no-fault divorce. In Virginia, a no-fault divorce means that neither spouse is responsible for the break-up and the spouses have lived separate and apart for at least 12 months before filing for divorce. If you don't have minor children, the court only requires you to live separately for 6 months before filing. (Va. Code Ann. § 20-91 (9)(a).)
If you meet all of the above criteria, you may proceed with your uncontested divorce by completing and submitting the proper forms to the court. The spouse who files the initial paperwork is called the "plaintiff," and the other spouse is the "defendant."
The Virginia Legal Aid created An Easy to Use Guide to Help you File a No-Fault Divorce, which contains valuable information for anyone attempting to file for divorce without an attorney. A word of caution: if you plan to file for divorce without the help of an attorney, the court holds you responsible for obtaining, completing, and submitting all the necessary documents to the correct court. If you miss a document or file in the wrong court, the judge will dismiss your case, and you will have the process over from the beginning.
Virginia's circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction that oversee divorce cases and trials. Virginia's circuit court system includes 31 judicial districts with 120 separate circuit courts. Some counties have more than one circuit court. Generally, you should file in the county where you live. If you and your spouse live in separate counties within Virginia, you can file in either location.
The Virginia State Courts offer online forms for completing an uncontested divorce. Check with your local government for county-specific forms. You can also visit the courthouse to request a hard copy of the paperwork. Some courts charge a fee for forms, so be sure to call before you arrive.
Each county may have different filing requirements for divorce, but generally, you'll need to submit the following documents when you file for an uncontested divorce:
If you and your spouse have children together under the age of 18, then the following forms must be filed as well:
The required paperwork to complete a divorce in Virginia varies from county to county. Check with your local court clerk for more information and to determine whether you need to file additional forms.
Unlike some other states, Virginia does not have a set timeline on how long spouses have to wait for a divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses can avoid going to court altogether by filing a request to have their divorce heard by affidavit, rather than through a court hearing. (Va. Code Ann. § 20-106 (F).)
Uncontested divorces have the potential to be a quick divorce. However, the length of time between filing for divorce and the judge's final signature depends on many factors. For example, if your spouse accepts delivery of the paperwork after you file and submits the proper documents, including waiving the right to contest your petition, the judge may schedule a hearing as soon as time on the docket allows. If you and your spouse began the divorce process together, but your spouse disputes any issue in your petition, the process could take several months.
Your divorce is not final until the judge signs the Decree of Divorce, which may be different from your last hearing date.
If you have additional questions about obtaining an uncontested divorce in Virginia, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
Many local counties offer self-help websites. For example, if you live in Norfolk, Virginia, you can visit the Divorce Procedures website for more information on an uncontested divorce.
For more information on uncontested divorces in Virginia, see Virginia Code, Title 20, Chapter 6.