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Timeline for a Divorce in Virginia

Divorce is a complex and emotional process involving the dissolution of a marriage and the division of assets, debts, and often custody arrangements for any children involved. While the process is never easy, understanding the general timeline of a divorce can help individuals navigate through this challenging period of their lives.

The first stage of divorce typically begins with the filing of a complaint for divorce. This legal document outlines the grounds for divorce and any requests for spousal support, child support, custody, and division of property. In Virginia, grounds for divorce can include fault-based grounds such as adultery, cruelty, or desertion. If a party wishes to file for divorce on fault-based grounds, there is no mandated waiting period to file. That is, a party may file a fault-based complaint at any time after the fault basis has occurred. In practice, however, Northern Virginia courts will routinely schedule the final trial date to be set after the required no-fault separation period as discussed below. It’s rare to obtain a final order of divorce prior to the no-fault separation period lapsing.

For more information on grounds for divorce, see our Guide to Divorce in Virginia.

If none of the enumerated fault-based grounds for divorce exist in your case, Virginia Code §20-91 mandates specific time requirements before a party may file. For instance, parties may obtain a divorce if they have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for either six months (with a signed separation agreement in place and no children in common) or one year (without a separation agreement regardless of parental status). For a detailed explanation, see our Guide to Separation in Virginia. This period must be satisfied before filing for divorce. This requirement aims to ensure that parties have adequately considered reconciliation prior to divorce.

Once the complaint has been filed, the other spouse is served with the divorce papers and given a 21-day period to respond with an answer, counterclaim for divorce or other responsive pleading. In many cases, the parties may attempt to reach a settlement agreement through negotiation or mediation. If an agreement is reached, it streamlines the divorce process and avoids the need for a lengthy and expensive court battle.

However, if an agreement cannot be reached, the case will proceed through litigation. This stage often involves discovery, where both parties gather evidence and information to support their claims. This can include financial documents, witness testimony, and expert reports on issues such as child custody evaluations, a party’s income or property valuation.

Throughout the litigation process, both parties may attend court hearings to address various issues related to the divorce. These hearings may cover temporary financial support, as well as scheduling deadlines for completing discovery and preparing for trial.

At trial, a judge will hear arguments from both sides and make a final decision on the remaining contested issues. This decision will be documented in a final order of divorce, which outlines the terms of the divorce, including custody arrangements, child or spousal support, and division of property and debts.

It’s important to note that the timeline of a divorce can vary widely depending on the jurisdiction, complexity of the case, willingness of both parties to cooperate, and the backlog of cases in the court system. In some uncontested cases, a divorce can be finalized relatively quickly, while in others, the process can drag on for years.

If you’re considering divorce or are already in the midst of the process, it’s essential to seek guidance from an experienced family law attorney who can provide personalized advice and advocacy. The family law attorneys at Livesay & Myers, P.C. are experienced with all aspects of divorce in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.