Divorce in Virginia: everything you need to know

1 min readLast updated April 10, 2024by Charlie Barton

Explore our comprehensive guide, which covers everything you need to know, from the reasons and types of divorce to the associated costs and how it impacts your children.


  • Virginia allows both no-fault and fault-based grounds for divorce.

  • No-fault divorces are often smoother and less adversarial, as they do not require proving misconduct.

  • On average, divorces in Virginia are reported to range from $12,000 to $14,000.

  • A financial advisor can help you navigate your finances during a divorce and rebuild afterward.

What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?

Virginia allows both no-fault and fault-based grounds for divorce.

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.

1. No-fault divorce grounds in Virginia

A no-fault divorce is an option where neither spouse needs to prove wrongdoing by the other.

The primary no-fault ground for divorce in Virginia is living separately and apart for one year. However, if the spouses have a separation agreement in place and no minor children are involved, the waiting period is reduced to six months.

2. Fault-based divorce grounds in Virginia

On the other hand, fault-based divorce requires one spouse to establish specific misconduct by the other that has made the marriage intolerable.

Virginia recognizes several fault-based grounds for divorce, including:

  • Adultery

  • Conviction of a felony resulting in imprisonment for more than one year

  • Cruelty causing reasonable fear of bodily harm

  • Willful desertion or abandonment

To pursue a fault-based divorce, the spouse filing for divorce must provide clear and convincing evidence of the other spouse's fault. This may involve presenting witnesses, documents, or other forms of proof.

What is the impact of divorce grounds on proceedings?

The choice of divorce grounds can significantly affect the divorce proceedings.

No-fault divorces are often smoother and less adversarial, as they do not require proving misconduct.

In contrast, fault-based divorces may involve legal battles to establish fault, potentially leading to more contentious proceedings.

Additionally, the grounds selected may influence the court's decisions on issues like spousal support, property division, and child custody, making it crucial for divorcing couples to carefully consider their options when initiating divorce in Virginia.

What are the divorce types in Virginia?

Virginia's family law provides divorcing couples with two primary types of divorces: contested and uncontested.

  • Contested Divorce: In a contested divorce, spouses find themselves in disagreement on critical matters such as property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. This often leads to a more complex legal process, with court intervention to resolve disputes.

  • Uncontested Divorce: Conversely, an uncontested divorce occurs when both spouses are in complete agreement on all key issues, simplifying the divorce process and making it less adversarial.

What is the cost of divorce in Virginia?

The cost of divorce in Virginia can vary widely and is influenced by several main factors: the type of divorce, case complexity, contested issues, and legal fees.

On average, divorces in Virginia are reported to range from $12,000 to $14,000, according to Lawyers.com. However, it's essential to note that individual circumstances can lead to significant cost variations, such as:

  • Divorce type: In Virginia, couples have the option of pursuing either no-fault or fault-based divorces. A no-fault divorce is often less expensive and quicker as it doesn't require evidence or witnesses to establish grounds for divorce. Conversely, fault-based divorces can be costlier and more time-consuming due to the need to prove specific misconduct.

  • Number of contested issues: The more contested issues a divorce entails, such as property division, spousal support, and child custody, the higher the cost. According to Lawyers.com, an uncontested divorce in Virginia with no contested issues may cost around $4,000 to $5,000, while a divorce with two or more contested matters could range from $10,500 to $12,500.

  • Legal Fees: Legal fees can significantly impact the overall cost. In Virginia, divorce lawyers typically charge by the hour, with an average hourly rate ranging from $280 to $330, as reported by Lawyers.com. However, individual rates may vary based on factors such as a lawyer's experience, reputation, location, and demand. Some attorneys may also offer flat fees for specific services like document preparation or uncontested divorces.

Remember, divorce procedures can vary based on individual circumstances and local court rules. It's worth speaking to a qualified financial advisor to provide additional guidance throughout the process, match with an advisor here.

How to file for divorce in Virginia?

Navigating the divorce process in Virginia involves a series of carefully structured steps, including:

  1. Meet residency requirements: According to Virginia law, one spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months before filing for divorce.

  2. Prepare divorce documents: Start by preparing the necessary divorce documents, including a Complaint for Divorce, which outlines the grounds for divorce and the relief you're seeking.

  3. File with the Circuit Court: Submit the completed divorce documents to the circuit court in the jurisdiction where either spouse resides.

  4. Serve divorce papers: Adhering to Virginia's legal service requirements, you must properly inform your spouse about the divorce filing.

  5. Complete the waiting period: After filing, a waiting period begins. It's typically one year for no-fault divorces or six months if you have a separation agreement and no minor children.

  6. Attend court hearings: If necessary, attend court hearings where the judge reviews the documents. If everything is in order and the waiting period has passed, the judge finalizes the divorce with a Final Decree of Divorce.

How do you split assets in Virginia?

In Virginia, the division of assets during a divorce follows the principle of equitable distribution.

This means that marital property, which includes assets acquired during the marriage, should be divided fairly, but not necessarily equally, between the spouses.

The process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Identification of marital property: Firstly, both spouses must identify and disclose all marital property. This includes real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal property, and any other assets acquired during the marriage.

  2. Valuation of assets: The next step involves assessing the value of these assets. Some assets, like real estate or investments, may require professional appraisal to determine their worth accurately.

  3. Categorizing separate property: It's important to distinguish between marital property and separate property. Separate property, such as assets owned before the marriage or received as gifts or inheritances, is generally not subject to division.

  4. Factors for equitable distribution: Virginia law considers various factors when determining how to distribute marital assets fairly. These factors include the contributions of each spouse to the marriage, the duration of the marriage, the age and health of each spouse, and the financial circumstances of each party.

  5. Negotiation or court decision: Spouses can negotiate a property settlement agreement that outlines how assets will be divided. If they can't reach an agreement, the court may make the final decision, considering the equitable distribution factors.

  6. Finalization: Once an agreement is reached or the court issues a decision, the division of assets is formalized, and both parties receive their allocated share of the marital property.

How does alimony work in Virginia?

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is a financial arrangement in Virginia designed to assist one spouse in maintaining a standard of living similar to what they had during the marriage.

Several key factors influence the determination of alimony, and it can be either temporary or permanent.

These factors include the length of the marriage, the financial resources and needs of each spouse, the marital lifestyle, and the contributions of each spouse to the marriage, both financial and non-financial.

Virginia courts may award both temporary and permanent alimony.

Temporary alimony is typically awarded to bridge the financial gap until the receiving spouse becomes self-sufficient. Permanent alimony, on the other hand, is generally granted in long-term marriages and may continue indefinitely.

Alimony laws in Virginia can be intricate, and the specific terms of alimony are determined on a case-by-case basis.

This means that there is no fixed formula for calculating alimony, and it can vary greatly from one divorce case to another.

What happens to children during a divorce in Virginia?

Children are often caught in the middle when parents divorce, and Virginia law prioritizes their best interests when determining child custody and support arrangements.

Parents are encouraged to create a parenting plan that outlines child custody, visitation schedules, and important decisions related to the child's upbringing. If parents cannot agree, the court may step in to establish a parenting plan in the child's best interests.

The court will make a ruling on:

  • Child custody

Virginia courts focus on creating child custody arrangements that promote the child's well-being.

Custody can be joint (shared between both parents) or sole (awarded to one parent), and it may include both physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (decision-making authority).

Factors including the child's age, their relationship with each parent, and each parent's ability to provide a stable environment are considered when determining custody.

  • Child support

Both parents are generally financially responsible for their children after divorce.

The non-custodial parent is typically required to pay child support to the custodial parent to help cover the child's expenses, including education, healthcare, and daily living costs.

Child support calculations are based on income, the number of children, and specific guidelines established by Virginia law.

How to protect your finances when going through a divorce in Virginia

Going through a divorce can be a stressful and challenging time, especially when it comes to finances. You may have many questions and concerns about how to protect your assets, manage your debts, and plan for your future.

Here are some ways you can protect your money when going through a divorce:

  • Organize your finances: Before filing for divorce, gather all relevant financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills, and retirement accounts. Make a list of all assets and liabilities, both marital and non-marital. This will help you and your spouse negotiate a fair distribution of property and debts.

  • Consider mediation: Mediation is a process where you and your spouse work with a neutral third party to resolve issues related to your divorce, such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. Mediation can be less time-consuming, less expensive, and less stressful than going to court. It can also help you maintain a cooperative relationship with your spouse after the divorce.

  • Think about Social Security: If you have been married for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record. This can provide valuable income during retirement, especially if your ex-spouse earned more than you. However, certain criteria must be met to qualify for this benefit.

  • Seek professional help: Divorce can significantly impact your financial situation. Consider consulting with a financial advisor specializing in divorce to help you navigate these changes and plan for your future.

Get expert financial advice

A financial advisor can help you assess your current financial status, create a post-divorce budget, and develop a long-term financial plan that aligns with your needs and goals.

Unbiased can connect you with a financial advisor perfectly suited to meet your needs. Simply provide some details about what you’re looking for, and the Unbiased platform will match you with your advisor.

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Charlie Barton

Charlie Barton is a writer at Unbiased. He has been writing about personal finance and investing since 2017, with extensive knowledge of platforms and products. Charlie has a first-class degree from the London School of Economics.

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.