Coming to the decision to get divorced is never easy. But for some couples, it is knowing how to start the divorce process that becomes the greatest source of confusion. In Virginia, the person filing for divorce needs to decide on what grounds to file under, and then must properly file and serve certain required documents. This sets the stage for the divorce and requires an understanding of the Virginia rules regarding residency and separation.
To file for divorce in Virginia, at least one spouse must have lived in the Commonwealth for a period of at least six months prior to filing. It is important to recognize that in addition to a divorce, Virginia allows parties to obtain a "divorce from bed and board." This refers to a fault-based action for legal separation and should not be confused with a traditional divorce. Provided the residency requirement is met, you may initiate a divorce by filing a Complaint in your county of residence. This document should contain basic information about the parties and the reason for divorce. You must also include documentation of all marital property and minor children. Once the complaint is filed, the court will issue a Summons. You will be required to file a receipt of service with the court once your spouse has been served the necessary documents.
Service of divorce paperwork in Virginia is traditionally made personally by a Sheriff. The documents can be delivered directly to the respondent spouse or to someone 16 or older residing at the spouse's household. In cases where the receiving spouse is willing to acknowledge receipt of the documents, he can waive personal service and the divorce paperwork can simply be delivered by mail. In that case, the respondent spouse would sign the receipt of service and mail it back to the court.
Grounds for Divorce
Virginia allows a spouse to file for divorce on fault-based and no-fault grounds. Fault grounds, such as adultery or extreme cruelty, must be proved, but do not require a period of separation. No-fault grounds simply require the parties to be separated for one year. However, this period may be reduced to six months if the couple has a settlement agreement and no children. A party wishing to move through the divorce process quickly may choose to allege fault grounds, but the divorce is contingent on proving marital fault.
Proceeding on Your Own
Neither party needs to engage the services of an attorney to obtain a divorce in Virginia. But navigating the legal system can be complicated, particularly if one side does have legal representation. Court personnel and judges are required to remain neutral and are not allowed to answer strategic questions. It is important to note that misunderstanding the procedures and rules involved in obtaining a divorce is not a defense to failing to follow the requirements -- and could limit your ability to get what you want in terms of custody, property division and support.