How Divorce Works In Virginia
Virginia divorce cases are handled by the state’s circuit court system, as are all other Virginia family law matters. The state of Virginia has one very unusual divorce law: divorcing couples may choose either a limited divorce or an absolute divorce. When the circuit court issues a limited divorce decree, it operates a bit more like a separation agreement, as it is not permanent, does not permit remarriage, and does not terminate property claims (although it might include a property settlement agreement). When the circuit court grants an absolute divorce, it constitutes a final decree, as the divorce is permanent, permits remarriage, and terminates property claims.
Virginia divorce laws allow couples to either file for a fault divorce or a no fault divorce. In a fault divorce, one spouse will allege some wrongdoing on the part of the other spouse in the divorce complaint, whereas in a no fault divorce, one or both spouses will simply indicate that they would like to dissolve the marriage through no fault of either party.
If one spouse would like to allege fault on the part of the other, they can select from four possible fault options listed by Virginia law. Those options are: adultery, sodomy, or buggery, committed by either spouse; conviction of a felony; willful desertion for a period of at least one year; and cruelty which causes the other spouse to fear bodily harm. If one spouse does allege fault, they will be required to prove it in court, which makes for a much more complicated divorce case and much more time-consuming divorce proceedings.
Divorcing couples may also choose between a contested divorce and an uncontested divorce in Virginia. In a contested divorce, each spouse must hire a Virginia divorce lawyer in order to resolve divorce issues like child support, child custody, alimony, and the division of marital property. Sometimes this means leaving these decisions up to the court, but more often the parties are able to reach a marital settlement agreement before trial.
In an uncontested divorce case, the parties already agree on these issues at the time of filing for divorce (perhaps they even already have a formal separation agreement), so they are able to simply submit their agreement to the court for approval prior to issuing a final divorce decree. Uncontested divorce in Virginia does not usually necessitate the hiring of an uncontested divorce lawyer.
However, some people may prefer to find an uncontested divorce attorney if they would like some minor legal advice or help navigating the uncontested divorce process and the many divorce forms. Online divorce is also an option in this case.
In a contested or uncontested divorce in Virginia, the spouse filing the initial divorce papers is called the plaintiff, and the spouse filing the response is known as the defendant. In cases of no fault divorce, there is not usually any benefit to being the plaintiff or the defendant; they are simply responsible for slightly different paperwork -- namely, the complaint and the response.
A divorce proceeding begins when the plaintiff files a complaint with the county clerk’s office. The defendant is then responsible for filing a response with the clerk within 21 days, or they risk having a default judgement issued against them.