While divorce is never an easy thing for the spouses involved, it can be a relatively simple process. For those spouses that are still able to compromise, an uncontested divorce will allow them, rather than a judge, to make the final decisions on their divorce.
This article provides a general overview of the process of obtaining an uncontested divorce in West Virginia. If, after reading this article, you still have questions about getting an uncontested divorce, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Traditional—or contested—divorces are expensive, emotional, and can last years. Lawmakers in most states created the uncontested divorce process to provide couples, with or without minor children, with a less expensive and draining divorce alternative. In West Virginia, the simplified divorce process is available to divorcing spouses who can agree on significant divorce-related issues, including child custody, child support, alimony, and property division. (W.Va. Code § 48-5-107.)
If you and your spouse disagree on any significant divorce-related issue, the court will deem your case “contested” and require you to attend a trial where the judge will decide the unresolved matters for you. Contested divorce often requires hiring expensive attorneys, presenting evidence, and multiple court appearances.
A simplified or summary divorce can save couples the stress associated with going to trial, although you'll likely need to attend one hearing with the judge to finalize your divorce.
If you are interested in filing an uncontested divorce in West Virginia, you and your spouse must agree on the following issues before filing your documents with the court:
Whether you're requesting a traditional or uncontested divorce in West Virginia, you must meet the state's residency requirements. To qualify for a divorce, one of the following must be true:
If you meet the above criteria, you may proceed with your uncontested divorce by filing a divorce petition and subsequent settlement agreement. Legal Aid of West Virginia publishes a comprehensive website with instructions for completing the divorce process on your own. The site includes forms, a self-help library, and informational divorce videos.
If you elect to file for divorce without the help of an attorney, you will be responsible for filing the necessary paperwork in the proper court. West Virginia has a separate family court system with 35 family court judges. Presently, there are 26 family court circuits in West Virginia.
Typically, you will submit your paperwork in the county where you reside. However, for separated spouses, you can file in either spouse's county.
The West Virginia Judiciary System offers online forms for completing an uncontested divorce. If you don't have access to a printer, you can find a hard copy of the divorce forms at the local courthouse. Some courts require you to pay for the copies, so be sure to call the court clerk before you go to the courthouse.
You must complete and submit the following documents with your initial divorce paperwork:
If you and your spouse have children under 18, you must also file the following forms with your divorce paperwork:
Depending on where you live, your county court may require additional forms other than what's listed above. If you'd like to make sure that you include all the necessary forms, you should check with your local court clerk to verify the judge's divorce requirements. If you fail to include required paperwork, the judge could dismiss your case, and you will have to start the process over.
If you and your spouse have minor children, then you must schedule and attend a parent education course before attending a hearing before the judge. Even spouses seeking an uncontested divorce will need to participate in the class prior to the judge scheduling the final divorce hearing.
Once you submit your paperwork, a Family Law Master will schedule a hearing for your case. However, the court must wait at least 20 days after you serve the Petition for Divorce on your spouse or 30 days if you served your spouse by publication before scheduling the hearing.
During the final hearing, you will tell the judge your reasons (or grounds) for why you are seeking a divorce (irreconcilable differences) and confirm the terms of your settlement agreement with your spouse. (W.Va. Code § 48-5-201.) If the court accepts your settlement, the judge will ask you to submit the final Findings of Fact and Decree of Divorce for the judge's signature.
The date the judge signs the Decree of Divorce (not the date of your hearing) is when your divorce becomes final. As discussed above, West Virginia requires spouses to wait at least 20 days the judge finalizes the divorce. However, the timeline for your divorce depends on the accuracy of your paperwork, how quickly you serve your spouse, if your spouse provides an “answer” to your petition (usually that only happens in contested cases), and the judge's court schedule.
If you have additional questions about obtaining an uncontested divorce in West Virginia, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance. For more information on uncontested divorces in West Virginia, see West Virginia Code, Chapter 48, Article 5, et seq.