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HOW DO I GET DIVORCED IN VIRGINIA?

Getting divorced in Virginia can be very complicated, or quite simple, depending upon the circumstances of your marriage.

The Court wants confirmation that all the assets and debts accrued during the marriage are divided, and in cases wherein minor children are involved, that custody and visitation have been agreed upon. As such, the more debts incurred or assets accrued during the marriage, the more there will be to divide. When custody and visitation are a contentious issue in addition to debts and assets, the divorce becomes quite complicated.

There are two ways to accomplish this requirement:

Property Settlement Agreements

To show the Court that you have agreed upon the division of assets and debts and the disposition of custody and visitation without going to Court, you must enter into a Property Settlement Agreement. Custody and visitation may be bifurcated from assets and debts by addressing these matters in separate agreements. Occasionally, some couples will be able to agree on some topics but not all, which is referred to as a Partial Settlement. When a couple is able to agree on every topic, this is referred to as a Global Settlement, or it may be said that they have reached settlement.

Some parties choose to prepare their own Property Settlement Agreement by purchasing templates, and other parties retain lawyers to prepare agreements for them. It is not recommended to use a template, as they are often devoid of important provisions that Virginia law requires.

There are many benefits to entering into a Property Settlement Agreement, such as:

  • Entering into a Property Settlement Agreement gives both parties more choice in the disposition of their marital matters, compared to a trial, wherein the Judge to solely makes decisions.
  • Property Settlement Agreements are less expensive financially, emotionally, and mentally than trial.
  • Entering into a Property Settlement Agreement is possible when parties are on good terms, so being able to enter into one is a good start to positively co-parenting after the divorce is finalized.
  • The parties may agree to dispositions of marital matters that are different than the statutory dispositions according to Virginia code, such as waiving child support. Should parties decide to agree to alternative dispositions, the advice of lawyers must be sought to ensure the agreement is legally sound.

The process of being divorced via Property Settlement Agreement may look like this:

  • Work with your lawyer to enter into a Property Settlement Agreement.
  • You enter into a Property Settlement Agreement with your spouse.
  • Your lawyer prepares all documents needed to finalize the divorce with the Court.
  • When the statutory period of separation has passed, your lawyer files your complaint for divorce with the Court that has the most appropriate jurisdiction. This is the document that initiates the divorce with the Court. The document is called a complaint whether or not the divorce is requested on fault or no-fault grounds. Whichever party files the Complaint for Divorce is considered the Plaintiff (also known as the Petitioner), and the Defendant (also known as Respondent) is the opposing party.
  • The clerk of Court must prepare a summons, which tells the opposing party there is an active legal action against them with the Court.
  • Service of the Complaint and Summons must be perfected.
  • The opposing party has twenty-one (21) days to answer our complaint or sign a waiver, a document which answers the complaint and gives the lawyer permission to file the final decree of divorce. If the opposing party is represented by an lawyer, their lawyer will advise which action to take.
  • The Plaintiff and a witness execute Plaintiff and Witness Affidavits.
  • The Plaintiff’s lawyer collates then files the Final Decree of Divorce packet with the Court.
  • Once the Final Decree of Divorce packet is filed, the parties may expect to wait approximately 6-8 weeks for a Judge to review and sign the packet.
  • Once the Judge signs, the Final Decree of Divorce, the parties are officially divorced.
  • The parties have one remaining responsibility, which is to fulfill any obligations agreed upon in the Property Settlement Agreement.

Your lawyer may advise you to take a settlement offer instead of setting your divorce for an ED trial. This is not laziness; this advice is given because they believe that this offer is in your best interests. Sometimes settlement offers put forth are better than what you could potentially be awarded in Court. Your lawyer will have the knowledge to discern the difference based upon what they have seen Judges decide in cases with similar circumstances to your case.

The lawyers at The Hopkins Law Firm have significant experience preparing and reviewing Property Settlement Agreements. Should you need assistance with finalizing your divorce with a Property Settlement Agreement, please contact The Hopkins Law Firm at 571-248-2210.

Equitable Distribution Trials

In the event that you are unable to reach global settlement via a Property Settlement Agreement, you will have to participate in an Equitable Distribution Trial, also known as an ED Trial, to determine the disposition of marital matters.

Upon the completion of the statutory period of separation, one party may file for divorce in a Court of competent jurisdiction. The Plaintiff would submit documents indicating to the Court that a trial is needed, and then follow that Court’s procedure for selecting trial dates.

During an ED Trial, the Judge reviews all matters pertaining to the marriage; custody and visitation, assets, debts, and any other special circumstances. The Judge then decides what the most equitable way to distribute the assets and debts would be, and which parent would be the most appropriate primary physical custodian for any minor children born or adopted to the marriage.

ED trials may last one (1) full day to three (3) full days, if not longer. The Court issues Scheduling Orders when trial dates are set. These Scheduling Orders contain statutory deadlines for tasks that must be completed in preparation of trial.

Parties to an ED trial may represent their interests themselves, which is referred to as being a Pro Se. However, having a lawyer to represent your interests is highly recommended. In the event that you do not have a lawyer and your ED trial is already set, it is recommended to seek representation as soon as possible to allow the lawyer enough time to effectively prepare for your trial.

If you are seeking representation for an Equitable Distribution Trial, the lawyers at The Hopkins Law Firm have the experience, knowledge, and skills to prepare a strong argument for your case and represent you effectively. Should you need assistance with your ED trial, please contact The Hopkins Law Firm at 571-248-2210.

How Long Does it Take to be Divorced in Virginia?

The amount of time it takes for a divorce to be legally finalized depends upon each family’s circumstances.

  • If the parties to a divorce are in agreement and have no minor children, they may be divorced within 6-9 months.
  • If the parties to a divorce are not in agreement and have minor children, or if parties without minor children are not in agreement, it may be well over 1 year until their divorce is finalized.

Retaining a lawyer to represent your interests is the best way to ensure that your divorce is finalized as efficiently as possible.

Summary

To be divorced in Virginia, the Court requires proof that the marital obligations have been decided and divided between the parties. This is accomplished by entering into a Property Settlement Agreement or by presenting your case at an Equitable Distribution Trial. The timeline wherein a divorce is finalized depends on if the parties are in agreement and if there are minor children involved.

Michelle Hopkins and her team at The Hopkins Law Firm have the experience and skill required to effectively represent individuals seeking a divorce as efficiently as possible. Please contact their office today at 571-248-2210 for more information.

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