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Virginia Divorce Process

by Joseph Nicholson

Grounds and Jurisdiction

There are only two ways to show that a divorce can legally be dissolved in the state of Virginia and to determine the correct jurisdiction. The marriage didn't have to occur in the state, but state law requires the divorce be filed in the city or county in Virginia where the couple last cohabited. Alternatively, the divorce can be filed in the city or county of Virginia in which the defendant is currently a legal resident. If Virginia is a viable venue for the divorce, the grounds for divorce include adultery, sodomy or "buggery" outside the marriage; conviction of a felony (if not subsequently pardoned); failure to cohabit after serving more than one year of confinement for conviction of a felony; cruelty, physical or mental abuse; or abandonment. Divorce can only be filed, however, one year after committing any of these qualifying acts. Virginia also offers no-fault divorces, but, again, these can only be sought after the couple has ceased cohabitation for at least one year.

The Petition and Objections

The divorce process in Virginia begins with the filing of a bill of complaint for divorce at the family court division of the local circuit court. On this form, the plaintiff specifies the grounds for the divorce and how he'd like to handle issues such as the division of property, child custody and alimony. The petition must be served on the other spouse, who becomes the defendant. But before this can happen, the plaintiff must file documents describing in detail the jointly owned property of the couple, its sources of income, debts and other obligations. Once the complaint and supporting documentation has been served, automatic restraining orders issue on the spouses in an attempt to prevent confrontation. As of the service of process, the spouses are not allowed to take any of their children out of the state, sell any property, accept loans secured by jointly owned property or buy or sell insurance on the other spouse or for which they are a beneficiary. The defendant has 30 days from receiving the complaint in which to respond, which they must do by filing an acceptance of service of process and an "answer to bill of complaint for divorce." Otherwise, they risk losing their right to contest the divorce in any fashion. The defendant's response can be either consent to the divorce as described in the complaint, objection to the grounds (if predicated in one of the faults listed above), or consent to the divorce, but objection to the terms. If the spouse cannot be located, the court can require notice of the divorce published in local periodicals before entering a default against the named defendant.

The Divorce Agreement and Final Dissolution

Most divorces are no-fault, which means fighting the divorce itself is usually futile. More likely, the defendant will contests the terms. If the parties cannot reach agreement on all terms of the divorce, either on their own or through their attorneys, the court will intervene. Virginia is an equitable distribution state, which means the court will attempt to divide property fairly, taking into consideration the conditions of the parties when they entered the marriage and their contributions to the union, which include nonfinancial contributions like child rearing. Spousal support, or alimony, is considered on a case-by-case basis, with the court looking at the cause of the divorce, the accustomed lifestyle of the parties, and each spouse's ability to work and support themselves. The court's decisions on child custody are made with the best interests of the child in mind and with the goal of minimizing the child's emotional trauma. However the exact terms of the divorce are determined, whether by the court or by negotiation between the parties, the final decision is codified in a document called the marital settlement agreement. This is filed with the court, who will then issue a decree of divorce making the dissolution of marriage official.

About the Author

Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.