How to File for Divorce in Virginia Without a Lawyer
By Tom Streissguth
A divorce can be a complex, expensive and emotionally trying process. If there is a dispute between you and your spouse over child custody, property or support payments, the process becomes even more difficult and time-consuming. However, if you agree on the terms of the divorce, you may be able to carry out a legal divorce without the added expense of an attorney's time and advice.
Draw up a Bill of Complaint, which serves as a petition to the court to hear the matter and enter a signed Final Decree for the divorce into the record. Establish grounds for the divorce; Virginia law allows for "no-fault" grounds of separation for at least one year, as well as grounds such as adultery and insanity which you may assert and then prove through evidence you must provide and a signed affidavit.
Serve the Bill of Complaint on your spouse, either by private process server or through the sheriff's department of the county in which your spouse resides. Your spouse may also voluntarily acknowledge service by filing an Answer to the Bill of Complaint. If you are unable to locate your spouse, you must serve the Bill of Complaint by publication: a newspaper announcement with which the court clerk can assist you.
Attend a Pendente Lite hearing to temporarily settle issues of child custody and support, visitation rights and living arrangements. In many Virginia counties, you attend a regularly scheduled "open motion" hearing, at which the court hears motions and other matters on a first-come-first served basis.
Draw up a deposition concerning the grounds for the divorce and sign this deposition before a notary public. You must have at least one witness for the grounds, whether contested or uncontested. You may also establish the grounds by attending an open hearing and giving testimony in court, although this is not required for uncontested divorces.
Draw up a marital settlement agreement and proposed final decree with your spouse. Detail the resolution of all matters to be enforced by the law. These include grounds for the divorce, child custody, visitation and support, the division of property, and all other relevant matters.
Attend a final hearing, at which a judge will review your marital settlement agreement, ask questions of either party on the terms of the divorce, explain the legal enforcement of the terms and sign a final decree. This decree makes the divorce final and legal as of the date the judge signs it.
Virginia law requires residency by either you or your spouse in the state for at least six months before you may file for divorce.
At any time during the divorce process, you can request the court clerk to schedule a hearing for any motion you which to file and be decided by the judge. This may include orders for support, restraining orders or any other matter relevant to the case.
Most Virginia counties offer court mediation services at which you can work out the details of your divorce agreement with an officer of the court in attendance to mediate any disputes.
The Bill of Complaint and other forms for a Virginia divorce are available online from various vendors of legal forms. Print out the blank form and complete the required information, or fill in the form online and then print it.
If there are contested issues in the divorce and you are unable to settle them with your spouse, you may attend a court commissioner's hearing to submit the facts and evidence in the dispute to the commissioner. He then gives an opinion on the matter to the judge hearing the case. You would be best served by hiring an attorney if your divorce takes this course.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.