When you divorce, you and your spouse legally separate your lives. Depending on the length of your marriage and whether you have children, this can get complicated. Virginia statutes outline the procedures you must follow before your divorce can be finalized.

Representing Yourself

If you choose to represent yourself in your divorce (called appearing pro se), be aware that the court will expect you to follow the rules just as an attorney would. Those rules can be confusing, and divorce can be emotional. Unless your divorce is very simple and amicable, it may be a wise decision to seek legal representation.

Filing Requirements in Virginia

Before filing, you or your spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least six months. Once you meet this requirement, you may file a complaint with the court.

Your spouse must be served with a copy of your complaint and a summons, usually by a deputy sheriff. If you do not know where your spouse is, you may serve the notice by publishing it in a newspaper. Your spouse will have a limited time to file a response, also called an answer.

As your case progresses, you may need to file additional forms, depending on the specific facts in your case.

Citing Grounds for Divorce

The state recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce.

Fault grounds may include these:

  • Adultery
  • Physical cruelty
  • Desertion

In general, there is a one-year waiting period after the act before you can file. Adultery does not require a waiting period, but you cannot continue to live with your spouse after you find out about it.

No-fault grounds are based on having lived apart for at least one year. If you have a signed separation agreement and no children, the mandatory separation period is six months.

Some people get around the waiting periods by filing for a "divorce from bed and board," which settles all the same issues as a divorce except you remain legally married. Not everyone will have this option, as there are limited grounds you may cite. If granted, you may request this arrangement be converted to a complete divorce (divorce from the bond of matrimony) once you have been separated long enough.

Distributing Assets and Debt

As with most states, Virginia requires an "equitable" or fair distribution of assets and debts (property) in a divorce. If you and your spouse can come to a fair agreement on your own, the court will enforce it. If not, the court will decide for you. It will consider any factors about your marriage or lives that it considers relevant to this decision. Depending on your circumstances, this could result in one spouse receiving a larger portion of the marital estate than the other.

Only marital property is divided, but if separate property has been mixed with marital property, it may become marital property. Separate property generally includes anything you owned before the marriage and any gift or inheritances received during the marriage. It can also include proceeds from the sale of separate property during the marriage.

Obtaining Legal Advice

While the information here is accurate as of its writing, it does not constitute legal advice. Laws change, and the facts in your case can affect how your case proceeds. If you have specific questions or concerns, consider consulting with an experienced Virginia divorce attorney.

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