Divorce in Virginia: Everything You Need to Know

1 min readLast updated October 3, 2023by Charlie Barton

Planning a divorce in Virginia? Explore our comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know, from the reasons and types of divorce to the steps, costs, asset division, spousal support, and how it impacts your children.

What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?

The grounds for divorce in Virginia are the legal reasons that justify ending a marriage. Virginia allows both no-fault and fault-based grounds for divorce.

1. No-fault divorce grounds in Virginia

In Virginia, divorces can be sought on both no-fault and fault-based grounds. 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, according to the Code of Virginia § 20-91.

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. As outlined in Virginia Code § 20-91, Virginia recognizes several fault-based grounds for divorce, including:

  • Adultery, sodomy, or buggery committed outside the marriage.

  • 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. It's essential to note that a fault-based divorce can have implications for the court's decisions on matters such as spousal support, property division, and child custody.

3. Impact of grounds on divorce 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, as dictated by Virginia Code § 20-91.

  • 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.

It's important to note that, within these divorce types, couples can further choose between fault-based and no-fault grounds for divorce, each with its own specific requirements and legal implications as outlined in Virginia Code § 20-91. Understanding these divorce types is crucial when embarking on the divorce journey in Virginia, as they significantly impact the divorce process.

How to file for divorce in Virginia?

Navigating the divorce process in Virginia involves a series of carefully structured steps. To help you understand and initiate this process effectively, here's a step-by-step guide on how to file for divorce in the Commonwealth:

  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, as specified in Virginia law under Code § 20-97.

  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, in accordance with Code § 20-99.

  4. Serve divorce papers: properly notify the other spouse, adhering to Virginia's legal service requirements, to inform them about the divorce filing.

  5. Wait for 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, as outlined in Code § 20-106.

  6. 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.

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.

What is the cost of divorce in Virginia?

The cost of divorce in Virginia can vary widely, 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.

Several determinants can impact the cost of divorce proceedings in Virginia:

  • 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 (Code of Virginia § 20-91).

  • 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.

  • Complexity of the Case: The complexity of a divorce case is determined by the intricacies involved in sorting out financial and legal matters. Complex financial situations, extensive assets or debts, business interests, and disputes over child custody can elevate the complexity and associated costs (Code of Virginia § 20-107.3).

  • 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.

It's important to recognize that the cost of divorce in Virginia is highly individualized, reflecting the unique circumstances and choices made by each divorcing couple. Legal professionals and recent state laws should be consulted for the most current and accurate information regarding divorce costs in Virginia.

How do you split up 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 as mandated by code of Virginia § 20-107.3.

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 fairly distribute marital assets. 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. The determination of alimony is influenced by several key factors, and it can be either temporary or permanent.

Here's how alimony works in Virginia:

  • Determining factors: Virginia courts consider several factors when determining whether to award alimony and its amount. 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, as per Code of Virginia § 20-107.1.

  • Types of alimony: 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 typically granted in long-term marriages and may continue indefinitely.

  • Complexity of alimony laws: 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.

  • Consulting with an attorney: Given the complexity and variability of alimony arrangements, consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney is advisable. An attorney can help you navigate the intricacies of alimony in Virginia, whether you are seeking it or may be required to pay it.

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. Here's what typically happens to children during a divorce in Virginia:

  • 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 such as the child's age, their relationship with each parent, and each parent's ability to provide a stable environment are considered when determining custody (Code of Virginia § 20-124.3).

  • 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 (Code of Virginia § 20-108.2).

  • Parenting plans: 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.

  • Child's best interests: Virginia courts always prioritize the child's best interests when making decisions about custody and support. This includes considering the child's physical and emotional well-being, the child's preferences (if appropriate), and any history of abuse or neglect (Code of Virginia § 20-124.3).

  • Mediation and court proceedings: Parents may be encouraged to resolve child custody and support issues through mediation to reach mutually agreeable arrangements. If an agreement cannot be reached, the court will hold hearings to make decisions in the child's best interests.

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 way 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. 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.

Find your financial advisor with Unbiased today.


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.