How to File For Divorce in Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia allows married individuals to seek a judicial declaration dissolving the marriage under state laws. At, 8.1 per 1000 residents in 2018, the divorce rate in Virginia does not differ significantly from the national rate of 7.7 per 1000 Americans, according to the United States Census Bureau. Per Section § 20–96 of the Code of Virginia, Circuit courts are the branch of the judiciary with authorized jurisdiction over divorce proceedings. In many cases, these courts adjudicate divorce filings within a year once the parties meet requirements, but complicated divorce proceedings take longer.
Do I need a Reason for Divorce in Virginia?
No. Virginia is a no-fault divorce state, i.e., intending divorcees need not provide any other information than irreconcilable differences. The commonwealth also allows residents to file for final divorce on a few fault grounds enumerated in Section § 20–91. Some of these grounds include adultery and deviant sexual conduct outside of marriage, as well as cruelty. Section § 20–95 also allows the court to grant limited divorce - known as divorce a mensa et thoro (divorce from bed and board) - on three grounds.
Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?
Most civil filings are straightforward: the plaintiff files a form, notifies the defendant, and schedules a hearing date with the court. Divorce is seldom straightforward as the nature of the proceedings is riddled with uncertainties that may confound an individual without legal education and experience. Another common mistake is to seek legal advice from individuals who have gone through a divorce. No matter how close these individuals are or how knowledgeable the advice from these people seems, bear in mind that the advice is subjective at best. No two divorces are the same; rules and laws change all the time, and there are procedural differences from county to county. Due to the adversarial nature and underhanded tactics common to divorce suits, a defendant should strongly consider hiring an attorney if the other party hires one.
How do I Get Started in a Divorce in Virginia?
Regardless of whether a divorce is uncontested or not, Virginia laws require one or both parties to meet residency requirements per Section § 20–97. The law exempts spouses of a member of the Armed Forces stationed in a foreign country but domiciled in Virginia for at least six-months before deployment from this rule. Likewise, per Section § 8.01–262, the preferred venue for filing a divorce shall be the last county or city of residence of the couple before separation. Upon meeting the residency and venue requirements, the standard divorce procedure in Virginia involves:
- Court filings: Here, the plaintiff must fill out a set of court forms regarding divorce and file them with the clerk of the circuit court. Generally, a divorce filing in Virginia begins with a bill of complaint and a cover sheet. There is a checklist of all forms in a later section of this article, but it does not substitute the ones the clerk provides. The plaintiff must also pay the associated filing fees via the payment method accepted by the court. Further, a general rule of thumb is to make three photocopies of all forms and documents filed in a divorce case.
- Complete the Service of Process (SOP): Upon filing the complaints and other court documents, the court will issue a Subpoena in Chancery. This subpoena notifies the defendant of a pending divorce suit, and the defendant is responsible for serving the document with the bill of complaint. SOP in Virginia is accomplished by personal service, contracting the sheriff, or any individual who has no interest in the suit. The court will not recognize documents served any other way even if the defendant receives it. Further, the server will provide the plaintiff with proof of service. For the sheriff, this proof is the return of service. For other servers, an affidavit of service applies. However, the parties may bypass the SOP entirely if the defendant completes an acceptance/waiver form (Section § 20–99.1:1).
- Mediation: In contested cases, the court typically requires both parties to attend mediation sessions to resolve disputes regarding child custody and support, alimony, or property division.
- Schedule a Hearing Date: The final step is for the plaintiff to schedule a date and time of hearing on the court calendar at the office of the clerk. Also, Virginia courts may schedule a temporary hearing to issue orders pending the final suit (Section § 20–103). The court does not require couples who agree on all matters or have no children to appear in court. Instead, the judge will review the filings and grant the divorce.
How to File for Divorce in Virginia without a Lawyer?
The process discussed above also applies to self-represented plaintiffs. Still, as there may be procedural differences from county to county, the self-represented plaintiff should contact the clerk of courts for additional resources and guidelines. Meanwhile, the information on Virginia LegalAid is useful to self-represented plaintiffs filing for divorce. Below is a list of forms that plaintiffs must submit in a divorce suit. Bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive and the plaintiff must contact the clerk for a comprehensive list applicable to the case.
- Complaint for Divorce
- Certificate of Service
- Separation Agreement
- Request for order of publication
- Service Other Than by Virginia Sheriff
- Petition for Proceeding in No-Fault Divorce without Payment of Fees and Costs
- Notice of Commencement of Action and Request for Waiver of Service of Process
- Cover Sheet
How Does Virginia Divorce Mediation Work?
Generally, intending divorcees must complete a court-ordered mediation before the case proceeds to a court hearing. In mediation, a neutral party helps parties arrive at a mutual agreement on disputed matters before a court hearing. The sole aim of the mediator is to help the couples find a middle ground regarding disputes, thereby avoiding a protracted divorce and saving legal fees. Nevertheless, the recommendations of a mediator are suggestions at best. It is not legally binding on the intending divorcees before the judge issues a final verdict.
How Long After Mediation is Divorce Final in Virginia?
It depends on how complicated the divorce is and the time taken for spouses to reach an agreement. Mediation may be over in a few sessions spanning days or take several weeks depending on how soon the couple reaches a middle ground on all or some disputes. When mediation fails, the case will eventually go to court, but the judge will have sole discretion in deciding the disputes.
Are Divorce Records Public in Virginia?
Yes, divorce records are public documents under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, the court may order the sequestration of a divorce record from public access if a party files a motion to seal per Section § 20–124. Consequently, only authorized court personnel and eligible individuals can access sealed divorce records.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in.
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
How do I Get Virginia Divorce Records?
Visit the circuit court where the divorce suit was filed and adjudicated (use Virginia court finder).. The requester must submit a request describing the records sought with sufficient information to help court staff perform a search. Typically, the information required includes the name of the parties and attorneys, as well as the dates of filing or adjudication, case number, and the name of the presiding judge.
Also, the record custodian will charge a nominal fee for searching and reproducing the divorce records sought. The requester must pay these associated fees via the payment method accepted by the court. Interested requesters can also access case information on divorce suits filed in a Virginia circuit court online. To do this, visit the online repository and select the county of filing. Query the database using the names and case numbers associated with the suit as search parameters.