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.
An uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than traditional divorce—spouses can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service. They do, though, also have the option of getting professional help.
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 your spouse 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. State 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 and you have signed a written settlement agreement, 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 Virginia Legal Aid created An Easy to Use Guide to Help you File a No-Fault Divorce, which contains valuable information for anyone filing for divorce.
All divorcing spouses should consider memorializing the terms of their divorce in a settlement agreement, even if the couple qualifies for an uncontested divorce without one. The agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse and provides how you will handle issues like property division, alimony, child custody, and support.
If you choose to work with one, an attorney can give you advice on your proposed settlement, make sure you complete the paperwork correctly, and see that you file your paperwork on time. Keep in mind that another kind of professional—a mediator—can help spouses reach agreements and prepare the paperwork that finalizes the divorce.
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. 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. Or, you can use a DIY service like DivorceNet's Online Divorce, which fills out the forms for you.
Although each county may have different filing requirements for divorce, the first form you need to file is typically the Complaint for Divorce. The Complaint provides the grounds for divorce and basic information about yourself and your spouse. If you have children under 18 years of age, you will need to fill out additional forms about the children, custody, and child support.
Virginia's 120 circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction that oversee divorce cases and trials. 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.
You must pay a filing fee with your divorce paperwork. You can use the state's Filing Calculator to determine how much you will have to pay. If you cannot afford the fee, you might qualify for a fee waiver, also known as an In Forma Pauperis form. Check with the circuit court in your county for more information.
Depending on your county, you might have to schedule and attend a final divorce hearing. In some counties, 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).) Check with your county clerk's office to find out if this is an option for your case.
Unlike some other states, Virginia does not have a set timeline on how long spouses have to wait for a divorce. Uncontested divorces have the potential to be quick divorces. 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.