The 7 Steps of the Divorce Process in Virginia

woman signing documents for divorce process

Last Updated on June 2023

Psychologists say that divorce is listed among the most unpleasant life experiences. In addition to emotional turmoil, spouses have to deal with confusing legal procedures that can increase stress and anxiety. While we can’t help spouses overcome inner worries, we can provide information on navigating the Virginia divorce process so they can move from one stage to the other more efficiently.

Read the article till the end to learn how to get a divorce in VA, what documents to prepare and where to file them, how to reduce divorce expenses, and why to opt for an uncontested divorce.

Step 1: Determine the Grounds for Divorce

When you start a divorce in Virginia, you can initiate a fault-based case if you have evidence that the other party’s misconduct led to marriage termination. Also, you can file for divorce, choosing an irretrievable breakdown as a reason, without proving any wrongdoing by the other spouse. The second option will be qualified as a no-fault case.

Spouses can file for a no-fault uncontested divorce in Virginia if they have lived apart for 6 months and have a separation agreement or for a year if they have minor kids. It means no particular fault caused their splitting, and they managed to negotiate disputes and come to an agreement considering all divorce-related topics, including child custody and support, marital assets and debt division, alimony, etc. An uncontested no-fault divorce in Virginia is cheaper and faster than contested fault-based cases, so many couples try to handle disputes themselves or by using mediation or arbitration instead of initiating lengthy and costly litigation.

However, sometimes one spouse seeks marriage termination because of the partner’s misconduct. In case of a divorce from the bond of matrimony, there are 4 fault grounds for divorce in the state:

  • Adultery means that one spouse engages in a voluntary sexual act with someone other than their spouse.
  • Cruelty refers to cases when a spouse hurts the other party physically or mentally, endangering their health or life.
  • Desertion or abandonment defines situations when one partner leaves the marital home without justification and with the intent to end the marriage.
  • Felony conviction states that one spouse is convicted of a crime and is sentenced to a jail term of more than one year.

If a spouse applies for a fault-based divorce, it is necessary to provide evidence to support their claims. Therefore, the divorce process may last longer and take more financial resources.

Step 2: Prepare and Fill Out the Documents for Divorce

There are several options of how you can prepare your divorce papers in Virginia: 

  • Virginia Legal Aid. This certified organization can provide you with a DIY divorce package. However, you will have to complete all divorce documents yourself. Though this is a budget-friendly option, managing all legal instructions and filling out papers yourself may cause much confusion.
  • Hiring a lawyer. You can hire a legal professional who can assist with preparing divorce forms. However, their services are pretty expensive, depending on the hourly rates a lawyer charges.
  • Online divorce service. Another way to get divorce forms is to contact a specialized online company. This variant is more convenient due to several reasons. First, you can get divorce papers generated specifically for your case. Secondly, you can choose a suitable deadline, and your forms will be ready in due time. Besides, such services usually have reasonable pricing policies and charge several times less than lawyers for document preparation. Last but not least is the availability of filing instructions. By following step-by-step guidelines, you can file your divorce papers easier.  

Step 3: File a Complaint for Divorce

When your papers are ready, you need to take the signed divorce complaint and other documents to the clerk’s office. You should file at the circuit court in the county where you or your spouse has resided for at least 6 months. The clerk will stamp the documents as “filed” and give you the copies. When filing for divorce in Virginia, you must pay a fee that varies across the state but is usually under $100.

Step 4: Serve Your Spouse with Notice

Once you’re done filing your divorce papers, you must serve the copies to your spouse.

Who can serve divorce papers in VA?

  1. Person unrelated to the case. You cannot serve the documents yourself. Instead, you need to find a third party over 18 to handle the task. Make sure this person isn’t related to you or your spouse in any way.
  2. Sheriff. You can hire a sheriff in the county where your spouse resides for serving divorce papers.
  3. Process Server. This specialist will deliver divorce documents to your spouse and provide you with an affidavit or proof of service, denoting that your spouse has received documents.

Step 5: Wait for Your Spouse’s Answer and Complete the Discovery Period

The defendant needs to respond to the divorce petition within 21 days. This response is called the “Answer” and addresses the conditions specified in the petition. It may include the agreement with the divorce terms or counterclaims the defendant wants to issue. If they fail to respond within the specified timeframe, the court may proceed with the divorce based on the petitioner’s claims only.

During the discovery period, each spouse’s attorney can request information, documents, and evidence from the other party. This can include financial records, property valuations, bank statements, tax returns, and other relevant information.

The discovery process is needed to ensure that spouses can make informed decisions concerning their divorce and negotiate a fair settlement. It helps identify assets and debts and evaluate the overall financial situation of the divorcing couple.

Things can get complicated if spouses hide information from each other, apply for a fault-based contested divorce, and can’t enter into an agreement. Their lawyers will have to perform meticulous research, collect lots of data, and involve third-party experts.

If you are terrified by the possibility of participating in long and expensive court battles and interested in how to divorce in Virginia without a lawyer, you should do your best to reach a compromise. Spouses need to prepare a joint separation agreement and submit it to the court. The document will outline the terms and conditions agreed upon regarding various aspects of their divorce, including property division, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, and any other relevant issues. If the court finds the agreement fair and reasonable, it will incorporate it into the final divorce decree.

Step 6: Complete the Waiting Period

In Virginia, there is no specific waiting period from the moment the divorce petition is filed till the final divorce decree can be issued. After the divorce process starts, it usually does not take too long to be finalized if the case is uncontested. However, there are specific requirements as to how long spouses should be separated to initiate a divorce process.

  • If spouses do not have kids and have signed a separation agreement, they can apply for an uncontested no-fault divorce after living separately for at least 6 months. Such cases are finalized relatively quickly, and the divorce time limits will depend mostly on the court’s workload.
  • If spouses with minor kids want to start an uncontested no-fault divorce, they must live apart for at least a year before filing.
  • In fault-based divorces, no separation is usually required. However, there are legal regulations regarding when fault-based grounds can become a valid reason for divorce. For example, according to the Code of Virginia, Section § 20-91, abandonment should last no less than a year.

When a couple files for a contested divorce, the period between filing and official marriage dissolution takes around six months or more. This is due to the fact that the court may require the couple to attend mediation or use other ADR services to attempt to reach an agreement. Otherwise, the court will decide on contested issues based on the evidence and arguments presented by both parties.

Step 7: Obtain Your Final Divorce Decree

If you apply for an uncontested divorce in Virginia and add a separation agreement to a whole package of divorce papers, your case may be resolved even without a traditional hearing in court. The judge will review your agreement and will sign a divorce decree. You will need to follow up with the court clerk’s office to get a copy of a divorce decree.

Spouses that start a contested divorce, which typically involves handling several disputes, must participate in court hearings. Both parties need to present their evidence and arguments before the judge. After considering the evidence, the judge will issue a final divorce decree.

The Bottom Line

Divorce can be a long, expensive, and emotionally-draining process. The good news is that spouses can end their marriage without huge financial and time expenses if they are ready to cooperate. Turning a contested case into an uncontested one is a very reasonable decision, especially if spouses have kids.

There are many ways to speed up a divorce without spending a fortune. The most advantageous option is to try to agree with your spouse and initiate a no-fault uncontested divorce. This way, you can file for divorce online and turn to the help of online services for document preparation.

You can save significant time by delegating tiresome paperwork to a trusted service. You will receive court-approved divorce forms quickly and for a reasonable fee. All the needed documents will be completed within the chosen deadline. Besides, you will receive instructions guiding you through the filing process.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does the divorce process take in Virginia?

Uncontested divorces are finalized much quicker than contested cases and can take up to a few months. Contested divorces may last over a year.

Can you get an immediate divorce?

No matter the ground for divorce, it is unlikely you can get divorced immediately. Even an uncontested case will take some time from filing till the decree is issued, depending on the court’s schedule.

How much does a divorce cost?

Divorce expenses can vary from several hundred dollars to $10,000 or more. The more complicated the case is, the more money you’ll have to spend. The cheapest option is to file for divorce online without involving an attorney.

Who pays for divorce in VA?

A petitioner has to pay for document preparation, paper filing, and serving. Every party is typically responsible for their own attorney fees.

Is it hard to get divorced in Virginia?

The process of filing for divorce in Virginia is rather straightforward. Difficulties may arise if spouses cannot agree on major divorce questions.

Do I have to go to court for an uncontested divorce?

Uncontested divorce cases may be resolved without court hearings. When filing, you can submit an affidavit stating that you and your spouse have been separated for the required period and have reached a written agreement regarding all divorce terms. The court may not require you to attend hearings in such a case.