The divorce process in Virginia allows spouses to negotiate their own divorce settlement and submit it for court approval. If a couple chooses to write their own settlement agreement, they can likely avoid a divorce trial in front of a Virginia circuit court. However, before the court may approve the settlement and finalize the divorce, the court must confirm that the settlement meets the state law requirements for a valid agreement.
Spouses have the right to negotiate their own divorce through a settlement agreement, but they are not required to do so. Even so, a Virginia circuit court may refer the spouses to mediation services if the court believes the spouses can avoided a prolonged, contested trial. When chosen, mediation allows the spouses to negotiate a settlement regarding property, spousal support and other issues with the help of a neutral third party. However, state law does not require a settlement before spouses may divorce; if necessary, the spouses can ask a circuit court to decide all of the issues in their case.
Children and Divorce Settlement
In general, spouses may negotiate the terms of their divorce settlement. However, Virginia law often imposes additional requirements when the settlement includes legal issues related to parenting a children from the marriage. For example, parents may agree on an amount for child support, but the court must consider Virginia's child support guidelines and parents' circumstances to decide whether the specified amount is appropriate. In addition, the court must follow the custody standards set by Virginia law. If the court doesn't believe the parents' custody and visitation agreement reflects the children's best interests, the court might not accept those terms.
In Virginia, a divorce settlement must meet several requirements to become legally binding. In general, the spouses must have a written document explaining the terms of their agreement. The spouses must both sign the document under oath and have their signatures witnessed by a notary. Although unwritten promises may be more difficult to enforce than written terms, Virginia divorce laws do allow for an oral agreement if a spouse can provide proof accepted by the court. In addition, spouses may agree to their divorce settlement while in court proceedings, and the court transcript may serve as a record of their settlement without requiring a separate document.
Settlement Agreement and Divorce Decree
Virginia state laws allow the circuit courts to accept settlement agreements signed by spouses in divorce cases. The court may "affirm, ratify and incorporate by reference" the spouses' agreement in the divorce decree, the court order which formally ends the couple's marriage. Once affirmed, ratified and incorporated, the divorce settlement becomes a part of the divorce decree and either spouse may ask for court enforcement of the terms. For example, a spouse may need the circuit court to help with enforcement if the other spouse ignores or breaks the terms agreed on in the divorce settlement.
Reconciliation After Settlement
Under Virginia law, if spouses reconcile after they sign a property settlement agreement, the reconciliation will abrogate — set aside — the terms of their agreement. However, a couple can avoid this result by including a term in their agreement to explain the potential consequences of reconciliation. In particular, the spouses might agree that reconciliation after a divorce settlement will not change each spouse's rights unless they sign a new written agreement.
References & Resources
- Virginia State Bar: Divorce in Virginia
- Metropolitan Richmond Women's Bar Association: Understanding Your Domestic Relations Rights in Virginia
- Virginia General Assembly: Legislative Information System: Code of Virginia Section 20-109.1
- Virginia General Assembly: Legislative Information System: Code of Virginia Section 20-155
- VaLegalAid.org: Spousal Support and Equitable Distribution
- Central Virginia Legal Aid Society: Collaborative Family Law
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images