Contested Divorce in Virginia

A contested divorce is one in which the divorcing parties want different things from the divorce and cannot agree on a given outcome. It can be an expensive, combative process, and the final result may be decided at trial by a judge based on the information and arguments presented at trial. 

What are the reasons for a contested divorce in Virginia?

Contested divorces are generally the result of one (or both) divorcing parties being unwilling to compromise on one or more points regarding a divorce settlement. For example, if one party believes they should be paid a certain amount of money per month while the other is unwilling to pay that, they may need to settle the matter in court.

Disagreements are sometimes the result of open hostility on the part of one or both parties. It could also be that the parties fundamentally disagree with one another about a particular matter.

In an uncontested divorce, spouses agree to dissolve their marriage and are willing and able to negotiate the specific details of how the divorce should be settled. An uncontested divorce is generally preferred because it is easier, faster, and less expensive.

What does the process look like for a contested divorce in Virginia?

The process of going through a contested divorce in Virginia generally works as follows:

1. File a complaint

First, one party must file a complaint, submitting that complaint alongside supporting documents to the circuit court. The formatting and contents of these documents are fairly specific. It can be challenging to write and submit these forms correctly without expert help, but it is possible. 

Fault-based divorce

Ideally, a complaint will outline a true claim that Virginia considers grounds for divorce. Accepted grounds for a fault-based divorce in Virginia include cruelty, causing one’s partner to reasonably fear bodily harm, willful desertion for a long period, and abandonment. You can also file for a fault-based divorce if your spouse was convicted of a felony, went to jail, or has been sentenced to prison for more than a year and you don’t live together after the prison sentence is completed.  

No-fault divorce

To qualify for a no-fault divorce in Virginia, spouses must have lived separately for six months at minimum. If you have children together, you must have lived separately for at least a year. 

Note that even if you file for a fault-based divorce, the judge may deem a no-fault divorce to be more appropriate and grant that instead.

2. Serve the defendant

Next, the defendant must be served with a summons and complaint. There are a few ways to serve legal documents; the easiest is to mail it to the other party. They must be willing to acknowledge the receipt of the documents and sign them. 

You can also pay a professional to serve the documents. Many people pay a deputy sheriff to serve the them. 

If the party cannot be found or evades being served, there are procedures in place to continue with the divorce process. You will need to demonstrate that you made an active, fair effort to serve the party the appropriate documents.

3. Participate in discovery

Discovery is a legal process by which information relevant to a case is disclosed. In the case of a divorce, the spouses share their finances and other information that’s important to deciding how the divorce will be settled. 

Hiding or manipulating information like your income or assets is illegal. Doing so has the potential to tilt the divorce results in your spouse’s favor and could potentially lead to serious legal trouble for you.

4. Go to trial 

Assuming the case continues to be contested with no settlement, the divorcing parties will eventually go to trial. Here, a judge will hear arguments from both parties about the divorce and how they want it to be settled. 

The judge will review the information provided, including the finances of both parties. A divorce judgment will be made, prepared by the divorcing parties, and signed by the judge.

A major element of contested divorce is determining what a fair split of marital assets looks like. Another major element is the decision of whether one person might need to pay spousal support or child support payments to the other. In divorce cases with children, a judge will also need to determine who gets custody and how visitation might work. 

Decisions are made with the best interest of the child in mind. If they’re old enough, input from the child may be considered on a case-by-case basis.  

How long does a contested divorce take in Virginia?

A contested divorce could take at least a year to finish in the state of Virginia. It could potentially take even longer. This stands in stark contrast to an uncontested divorce, which can often be completed in three months. It is this length of time that can significantly drive up the cost of a divorce.

How much does a contested divorce cost in Virginia?

Contested divorce in Virginia has the potential to be very expensive. The average cost of a divorce in the state is about $14,500 without children or $21,800 if children are involved in the dispute. Importantly, this is only an average, and especially complex divorces, particularly those involving a significant amount of marital assets, can cost even more.

The best way to lower costs is to try to achieve an uncontested divorce via mediation. If you and your ex can come to agreements on terms, with each party giving somewhat in the interest of a mutually beneficial agreement, the entire process can be much easier and faster.


Virginia Divorce. (December 2022). National Network to End Domestic Violence.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Divorce? 10 States With the Highest Price Tags. (November 2018). USA Today.
Divorce in Virginia. Virginia State Bar.
Divorce. County of Fairfax, Virginia.
Divorce Information. Loudoun County, Virginia.
Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.