Everything You Need to Know before Getting Divorced in Virginia
- Virginia divorce prerequisites
- Forms, fees, and steps
- Property division overview
- Child custody overview
- Spousal and child support
Seeking a divorce can be emotionally overwhelming and legally complex. If you are considering a divorce in Virginia, here is everything you need to know to navigate the process so you can move forward into your new post-divorce life.
Virginia divorce prerequisites
Do you meet the residency requirement?
To file for divorce in Virginia, you or your spouse must meet legal residency requirements. Either of you must have lived in Virginia for a minimum of six months before filing, and one of you must still reside in Virginia at the time of filing.
When filing for divorce at the local county clerk’s office, you may be asked for confirmation of your residency. The clerk’s office will accept a valid Virginia driver’s license as well as a lease, deed, utility bills, or bank statements with your address to corroborate your address.
Do you have a reason for divorce (grounds)?
In Virginia, you are required to have a legally valid reason for your divorce, called “grounds.” Virginia allows for both no-fault and fault-based divorce grounds.
No-fault divorce grounds merely require that you and your spouse have lived “separate and apart” for at least one continuous year, or, if you and your spouse have no minor children and have signed a separation agreement, you will only need to have been separated for six continuous months.
If you don’t meet the separation requirement, you will have to wait to file for a no-fault divorce, or you will need to consider filing for a fault-based divorce.
The other divorce option in Virginia uses fault-based grounds. The following fault-based grounds are recognized in Virginia:
- Sodomy or buggery committed outside the marriage
- Conviction of a felony by either spouse after the marriage
- Willful desertion or abandonment of at least one year
It’s important to note that if you choose to use fault-based grounds, you must be able to prove it in court to be granted a divorce.
Are financial disclosures required in Virginia?
During the divorce process, you and your spouse will be required by law to provide each other with a complete accounting of your financial situation regardless of whether or not the divorce is contested or not. This includes your income, assets, debts, and expenses.
Honest financial disclosures are essential to ensure that your property division, child support, and alimony are based on each spouse’s complete and accurate financial information. Lying on a financial disclosure or attempting to hide money during the divorce process will not only affect a spouse’s credibility with the court, but it can also have serious consequences.
Are you required to take a parenting class?
In Virginia, a parenting class is typically only required by law during a contested divorce when minor children are involved. In some cases, however, the court may ask parents in an uncontested divorce to take a parenting class to address specific concerns or circumstances that may warrant additional education.
These parenting classes are a minimum of four hours and primarily deal with topics including the following:
- The effects of divorce and separation on children
- The responsibilities of parents post-divorce
- The financial obligations of parents post-divorce
- Conflict resolution and how to communicate effectively as co-parents
Learn more about Virginia’s parenting education classes here.
Virginia divorce forms and fees
To get divorced in Virginia, several forms must be filed by the person seeking the divorce (the Plaintiff) with the circuit court office in the county where you and your spouse last lived or where one of you currently lives.
The required forms vary depending on where the divorce is being filed and what type of divorce is being sought. Some of these forms include:
- The Complaint: This is the formal request for divorce that will be served to the other spouse. The Complaint must include grounds for divorce, residency, the date and place of the marriage, the names and birthdays of all minor and adopted children, a statement that both parties are over 18 years of age, and each party’s military status.
- The VS-4 Form: This is a statistical form that must be filed with each divorce before it can be finalized.
- A completed Domestic Case Coversheet: The coversheet includes the names and addresses of both parties, the date of separation, and whether it is anticipated to be a contested or uncontested divorce
A required filing fee must be paid at the time the Complaint is filed. The amount of that fee will depend on the county where you are filing, but generally, filing fees in Virginia are approximately $90 to $100. To calculate the exact fees for your county, go to Virginia's Circuit Court Civil Filing Fee Calculator.
A simplified divorce procedure
If you and your spouse are filing for a no-fault divorce and are in basic agreement, you may be able to file for an uncontested divorce. To proceed with an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must have agreed to all divorce terms before starting the process. This includes property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support.
Filing for an uncontested divorce is typically quicker and cheaper than fighting out the terms of your divorce in court. While the court will hear some uncontested divorces, others can be heard through an affidavit or deposition.
What are the basic divorce steps in Virginia?
The basic steps to file for divorce in Virginia are as follows:
- The Plaintiff files the Complaint and other applicable initial forms with the county clerk’s office. The clerk then issues a summons to the Defendant.
- The Defendant will then be served with the summons and Complaint. This is generally done by mail, via a deputy sheriff, or via a professional process server.
- The Defendant has 21 days from this service to file an answer. They have a right to admit or deny the allegations in the Complaint, and they can file a counterclaim.
- Spouses share financial information through financial disclosures.
- Spouses negotiate a settlement that includes how marital property and debt will be divided as well as any arrangements for child custody, child support, and alimony. Note: If you need support, mediation may be helpful.
- In a non-contested divorce, if you have agreed to the terms of your divorce, a final Decree of Divorce will be prepared, signed, and filed with the court.
- In a contested divorce, other steps will be required such as pre-trial and other hearings, discovery, settlement conferences, and other depositions. If you and your spouse still cannot agree, the case will ultimately be decided by a judge.
Property division overview
During a divorce, you and your spouse will be required to divide your marital property fairly. Marital property is anything you acquired (asset or debt) from the time you were married to the date of your separation.
Virginia is considered an “equitable distribution state.” This means that marital property must be divided fairly but not necessarily equally (like it is in a community property state). When courts decide on matters of property division, they consider many factors to ensure fairness, including the following:
- How long you have been married
- The age and health of both partners
- The income and future earning potential of both partners
- The value of any household management, including at-home childcare
Child custody overview
There are various types of child custody you should know about if you’re a parent getting divorced in Virginia:
- Sole or joint physical custody (who the child physically lives with)
- Sole or joint legal custody (who makes major decisions regarding the child)
- For a parent who does not have physical custody, scheduled parenting time or visitation is typically arranged
In Virginia, both parents have equal rights to the custody of their child, and the court favors custody arrangements where both parents are actively involved in their upbringing unless there is a history of violence or abuse.
In any custody or visitation decision, the court will always consider the child’s best interests first. The court may consider a custody arrangement that best aligns with a child’s physical and mental health or special needs, a parent’s ability to provide for those needs, the relationship between parent and child, and other factors.
What to know about spousal support
In Virginia, married couples have a legal duty to support each other while they are married. Pendente lite alimony may be ordered for one spouse while both parties are involved in the separation and divorce process. But generally, a court will only order alimony to be paid by one party post-divorce if it finds it necessary.
The court will base its decision on many factors and may order alimony payments temporarily, permanently, or a hybrid of both. Rehabilitative alimony allows one spouse to get training to enhance their earning potential. Permanent alimony could continue long-term or even for life if one party is unable to earn income because of age or physical or mental illness.
When determining alimony, the court will consider the following:
- The obligations, financial resources, and needs of both spouses
- The standard of living the couple enjoyed while married
- The spouses’ ages and physical and mental conditions
- Whether one spouse stays home to care for a child with a physical or mental condition
- The financial contributions of each party to the marriage
- How marital property has been divided
- Each spouse’s earning capacity and education
- Previous decisions that were made regarding employment, careers, education, and parenting arrangements
- Whether one spouse contributed to the other’s attainment of higher education and training to further their professional pursuits
- Whether there is a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
Child support in Virginia
Child support is financial support paid by one parent to the other to help care for their child’s needs. These include the costs of housing, clothing, food, education, and medical care. Other costs, such as childcare expenses and health insurance, may also be considered.
Child support in Virginia is calculated based on the gross income of both parents, including the following:
- Salary and wages
- Social security benefits
- Military benefits
- Spousal support
Virginia courts and the Department of Social Services follow the state table to calculate the amount of child support that must be paid. For more information about child support in Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Social Services website.
FAQ about Virginia divorce
How long will the divorce process take?
The duration of a divorce in Virginia greatly depends on several factors.
If you are seeking a no-fault uncontested divorce where you and your spouse have agreed to all its terms, it can be completed much quicker than a contested divorce, although you must fulfill your separation requirement first. Depending on how quickly you can get things filed and agreed upon and the availability of the court, your divorce could potentially be finalized in a month or two.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of your divorce, you will be looking at a contested divorce. This process can be lengthy and typically takes several months to a year or more, depending on your situation.
Can I e-file my divorce papers in Virginia?
You may be able to e-file your divorce papers in Virginia. All filings must comply with local content and format rules, which vary by county. Contact your local circuit court to get more information about their e-filing procedure and requirements.
ReferencesDivorce in Virginia. VALegalAid.org.
Circuit Court Civil Filing Fee Calculation. Virginia Judicial System.
Calculating Child Support in Virginia. Virginia Department of Social Services.