An uncontested divorce is a common way to get a divorce in Virginia. In fact, it may be the only way you and your spouse can control how to resolve the many issues that come up during your divorce. But uncontested does not mean unrepresented.
You are not required to have an attorney to get an uncontested divorce in Virginia—but it may be a good idea to have one. Divorces—contested and uncontested—often involve property rights, financial matters, and child custody and support decisions that can lead to complicated legal issues.
An experienced Virginia Beach divorce attorney like Thomas Wright at Invictus Law can help you navigate the Virginia uncontested divorce process. Read further to learn more about uncontested divorces in Virginia, then contact our law firm. Our family law team will listen to your story, discuss your options, and share how we will work to protect your rights throughout the legal process.
Uncontested Versus Contested Divorce
First, it’s important to understand the difference between a contested and an uncontested divorce in Virginia.
A contested divorce is just like it sounds—you and your spouse do not agree on how all issues in your divorce should be resolved. You may agree on the big issues, like property division and child custody, but if you disagree on even one issue, that makes your case a contested divorce, and a court will need to decide upon that issue.
When you and your spouse cannot agree, you lose control over how those issues will be resolved. It is in your best interest to settle issues outside the courtroom, when it is possible to do so. Contested divorces usually cost more and take longer than uncontested divorces.
An uncontested divorce is also called a no-fault divorce in Virginia, and it is also just like it sounds—you and your spouse agree how all issues in your divorce should be resolved. This means you agree on how your assets should be divided, how your debts will be paid, how post-divorce obligations will be defined, and, if you have any minor children, how child custody and support issues will be resolved.
Reaching agreement on all your divorce issues is the first requirement for an uncontested divorce in Virginia. You also need grounds for your divorce. There are two “no-fault” grounds for an uncontested divorce in Virginia, and which one applies to you depends on whether you have minor children. These grounds are listed in greater detail in Virginia Code § 20-121.02 and include:
- A one-year separation if you have minor children; or
- A six-month separation and pre-filing separation agreement if you have no minor children.
There is also a residency requirement. The spouse who files for divorce must have been a Virginia resident for at least six months on the date of filing.
Uncontested divorces usually cost less and take less time than contested divorces. The process for an uncontested is also less involved.
The Uncontested Divorce Process in Virginia
The process of getting an uncontested divorce in Virginia is similar to the procedures followed in other legal matters. A simple case will usually follow these steps:
- First, both spouses must agree to seek a no-fault divorce, meaning that neither spouse is responsible for the divorce.
- The plaintiff (spouse filing initial paperwork) files a “bill of complaint,” or divorce papers, in an appropriate court.
- The plaintiff then provides notice to the defendant through a “service of process,” which delivers the complaint, court summons, and other relevant documentation to the spouse.
- The defendant will then have 21 days to file an answer to the complaint in court. Once their answer is filed, the case is officially open.
- The spouses’ attorneys will negotiate a settlement agreement.
- A hearing will be requested to present the settlement agreement to the court for its approval; and
- The court will make final judgment (divorce decree).
These are just the basic procedural steps. In an uncontested divorce in Virginia, the parties also have the choice to have their case heard at an in-person hearing with a judge or commissioner or request to have the divorce be decided upon a deposition (written testimony given under oath and recorded or transcribed by a court reporter) or affidavit (a sworn written statement). In the latter, the parties do not have to go to court.
Throughout the process, the court requires that your case and filings comply with specific court rules and state laws at each step—and this includes anything that gets filed with the court.
What Paperwork Is Required for an Uncontested Divorce?
The paperwork required for an uncontested divorce is also much like the paperwork required in other legal matters in Virginia—plus some special forms unique to a divorce proceeding. This paperwork may include:
- A complaint (petition for divorce) and an answer.
- A Vs4 Confidential Identifying Information form. (The state of Virginia uses the data collected on this form for statistical purposes.)
- Documents outlining minor child visitation and support agreements.
- A Hearing Request Form or Request to Have Divorce Heard by Affidavit.
- Affidavits; and
- A settlement agreement.
How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?
How long an uncontested divorce takes depends on several factors, such as whether you have minor children, how long it takes to negotiate your settlement agreement, etc.,
Here is the basic equation:
(your required separation period—six months or one year, depending on whether you have minor children)
(the time it takes the court to process your divorce petition—usually within one to three months from the date of filing)
= Seven to fifteen months for an uncontested divorce in Virginia.
Do I Still Need an Attorney for an Uncontested Divorce?
Even in an uncontested case, the Virginia divorce process can be an overly complex legal process. You are responsible for following all court rules and procedures and knowing Virginia divorce law.
In addition, most divorce cases are not as simple as they initially seem. There are a number of complicated issues that could arise in relation to debts, assets, and child custody arrangements. An attorney can help you understand the legal implications of your settlement agreement to ensure you don’t unknowingly give up a legal right. An attorney can also help ensure you’re considering the long-term implications of your settlement agreement, so you’re not faced with any surprises down the road.
The Virginia Beach Circuit Court’s Uncontested Divorce Procedures Manual cautions that without an experienced divorce attorney, “you may forever unknowingly waive your rights to custody or visitation, child or spousal support, equitable distribution of property, and other legal claims arising out of your marriage.”
How Invictus Law Can Help
At Invictus Law, we take the time to get to know our clients. Your divorce may be uncontested, but do not let your rights go unrepresented. Call us today to speak with an attorney about the legal consequences of uncontested divorce proceedings and how we can protect your rights. Call us today at 757-317-5125.