Virginia’s no-fault divorce laws have made it easier for spouses to go their separate ways. But even uncontested divorces can be challenging. Unless you’ve got nothing to lose, it makes sense to work with a lawyer, even if that raises the price tag for your divorce. Low-cost DIY divorce may sound appealing. However, it is much less costly in the long run to have a lawyer do it right the first time than finding yourself inadvertently waiving support or assets or having to pay a lawyer to try to undo a poorly drafted DIY divorce. Plus, having an experienced attorney helps you navigate an emotionally-charged process and avoid unpleasant surprises from your spouse. Experienced legal representation is always worth the cost if you have minor children or significant financial assets.
What Are The Basic Requirements for Divorce in Virginia?
Virginia is a no-fault divorce state. This means there’s no requirement to demonstrate wrongdoing by either party. The only requirement for a no-fault divorce is for spouses to be separated for at least one year (or six months if you don’t have minor children and have a signed marital settlement agreement).
Virginia law allows for a contested divorce in cases of adultery, desertion, felony convictions, and cruelty by a spouse. However, contested divorces bring hefty legal requirements, lengthy arguments, and higher costs. Most divorcing couples find it faster and easier to go the no-fault route unless there are extenuating circumstances involving custody, spousal support, or financial assets. No-fault divorce makes the process simpler in most cases. But even in uncontested divorces, there are often significant legal conflicts to work out, including:
What Are the Steps for Filing for Divorce in Virginia?
In Virginia, it only takes one spouse to file for divorce. Every divorce case is different, but here’s a general outline of the process:
- File a Complaint for Divorce in the circuit court in the county where you and your spouse last cohabited, or at the option of the filing party, in the county or city in which the opposing party resides.
- Fill out a VS-4 form for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Health Division of Vital Records.
- Serve your spouse with the Complaint for Divorce and Summons notifying them that you have started the divorce process. A neutral third party (often but not always the county sheriff’s office) must deliver the papers.
- Your spouse has 21 days to file a response with the court.
- Uncontested divorces can be resolved in 90 days or less, provided the parties have executed a written marital settlement agreement. However, the process can take much longer if you disagree about custody, division of assets or other significant issues.
- If the parties are unable to execute a comprehensive written marital settlement agreement, the case must be set for trial and a divorce hearing must take place in circuit court before a Final Order of Divorce can be entered.
Do I Really Need a Lawyer for My Divorce?
You’re not technically required to have a lawyer, and a DIY divorce does exist in Virginia. However, even the most sophisticated self-represented litigant can find the process difficult without a lawyer. If you have minor children, joint property, or shared financial assets, both parties should have legal counsel.
Mediation is another option for couples willing to work collaboratively to resolve their divorce. Mediation is generally a lower-cost solution than litigation, with a third-party mediator helping couples resolve issues like custody, child support, property division, and financial assets. However, in many cases, each spouse can benefit from working with a lawyer to represent their interests through mediation. The mediator is neutral and does not advocate for either side. Having your own attorney to help you analyze your case and set your mediation goals in advance, will set you up for success in mediation. Both parties should also have an attorney review final agreements before signing anything.
When Do I Need a Lawyer for Divorce?
Unless your divorce case is completely cut and dried with no marital assets, no support issues and no minor children, both parties should hire an attorney. Your lawyer can help you:
- Navigate complicated financial assets, including retirement accounts, pensions and hidden investments.
- Work through an emotional process with insight and professionalism.
- Make you aware of your rights and responsibilities in custody, child and spousal support, financial assets and division of property.
- Advocate on your behalf if you believe your spouse is taking advantage of the process.
- Reduce imbalances of power in financial or other situations.
In Loudoun County, Troxell Leigh P.C.’s divorce and family law attorney, Lindsay Jefferies Mohler, works with clients in a wide range of situations to achieve equitable results. Our family law team collaborates with our attorneys specializing in real estate and financial matters to protect each client’s interests based on their unique circumstances and needs. Keeping in mind children’s well-being and economic fairness, our attorneys advocate for their clients inside and outside the courtroom, from litigation to settlements and mediation.