Divorce Process in Virginia
This guide highlights the general process of contested divorces in Virginia Courts.
Initial FilingAll divorces in Virginia begin with the initial filing of a complaint for divorce. The complaint outlines the jurisdictional information, the grounds for divorce which are sought, and the relief that the plaintiff is requesting. Broadly speaking, there are six major issues that a judge would be asked to decide in a divorce complaint. Those issues are: (1) the grounds for divorce, (2) equitable distribution, which is the dividing of assets and debts, (3) spousal support, which is a payment of money from one spouse to the other, (4) child custody, (5) child visitation, and (6) child support. Request for reimbursement of attorney fees and costs is sometimes seen as a 7th issue, but is typically included in equitable distribution.
Pendente Lite HearingAfter the initial filing of the complaint, most parties seek pendente lite relief in what is called a pendente lite hearing. The purpose of the pendente lite hearing is to put in place a temporary order to govern the parties until the conclusion of the divorce. Issues to be decided in a pendente lite hearing include: temporary spousal support, exclusive use of the marital home, child custody, visitation and child support, health insurance coverage, payment of the monthly mortgage, and even exclusive use of a vehicle. Mutual injunctions are also issued to insure that neither party wastes assets or incurs debt, or bothers or harasses the other.
Judicial Settlement ConferenceAfter the pendente lite hearing, both parties are typically ordered to attend a judicial settlement conference before a court will allow the case to be heard. A judicial settlement conference is a free service to the parties that is provided by the Virginia Supreme Court. It is the only formal opportunity to settle the issues of the divorce before trial, and is conducted with the parties and their lawyers by a retired Virginia Circuit Court judge. If the parties reach an agreement, that agreement is reduced to writing and the case then is concluded later by entry of an order incorporating that agreement.
TrialIf the parties cannot reach a full agreement, then the case proceeds to trial. Divorce trials in Virginia are always decided by judges, not juries. In a divorce trial the court takes evidence regarding the issues raised by the parties' in their initial filings. After the conclusion of the divorce trial a Final Divorce Decree is entered. The Final Decree of Divorce is an order formally divorcing the parties and awarding the relief which was awarded by the Court.