Understanding the Virginia Contested Divorce Process (2024)

In the realm of legal complexities, divorce stands as a formidable challenge, and in the state of Virginia, the contested divorce process adds an additional layer of intricacy. In this comprehensive guide, we unravel the intricacies of contested divorces in Virginia, shedding light on crucial aspects from eligibility criteria to the conclusive stages of the legal proceedings.

Decoding Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in Virginia

Divorces in Virginia are categorized into contested and uncontested, each significantly impacting the legal landscape of the case. An uncontested divorce arises when all matters are settled before filing, covering grounds and terms of the divorce. On the contrary, a contested divorce unfolds when disagreement persists on essential issues, necessitating intervention by a judge.

Eligibility Criteria for a Virginia Divorce

Before delving into the contested divorce process, ensuring eligibility is paramount. Two key requirements dictate eligibility: a residency of at least 6 months in Virginia and a valid reason, known as "grounds for divorce." Virginia recognizes both fault-based and no-fault divorces, providing options for couples to navigate the dissolution of their marriage.

Fault and No-Fault Divorce in Virginia

Virginia offers two grounds for divorce: no-fault and fault-based. No-fault divorces hinge on living separately for 12 months (or 6 months with no children), emphasizing a mutual decision to end the marriage. In contrast, fault-based divorces rest on specific grounds outlined in the Virginia Code, such as adultery or cruelty.

The 9 General Steps of the Virginia Contested Divorce Process

Navigating the contested divorce process in Virginia entails a sequence of nine key steps, each playing a pivotal role in shaping the legal trajectory.

Step 1 – File a Complaint

Initiating the process involves filing a complaint in the local Circuit Court, outlining divorce grounds and relevant case details. Properly serving the complaint to the spouse is crucial, often facilitated by a small fee for sheriff service.

Step 2 – Your Spouse Files an Answer

Following service, the spouse has 21 days to file an answer, admitting or denying allegations. This phase also opens the possibility for the spouse to file a counterclaim, adding complexity to the proceedings.

Step 3 – Pretrial Motions Are Filed

The pretrial period witnesses the filing of motions, requests to the court for specific actions. Common pretrial motions include continuances, discovery-related motions, and motions for pendente lite relief.

Step 4 – Attend a Pre-Trial Conference

A pretrial conference, while primarily assessing case status and setting litigation schedules, can potentially lead to a settlement if both parties reach an agreement.

Step 5 (Optional) – One Spouse Requests Pendente Lite Relief

Given the duration of contested divorces, the court allows temporary decisions through pendente lite relief, addressing immediate issues like spousal support and child custody until the final hearing.

Step 6 – Begin the Discovery Process

Discovery, a critical phase, involves fact-finding through tools like interrogatories, depositions, subpoenas, and requests for document production, setting the stage for trial.

Step 7 – Expert Testimony

Experts may be brought in to testify on financial and medical matters, crucial in determining issues like alimony and spousal support.

Step 8 – Go to Trial

The trial, a pivotal event, sees both parties presenting evidence and witnesses. The court schedules the trial between six and eight months after the request, with the final proceedings lasting one to two days.

Step 9 – Finalize the Divorce Order

Post-trial, the judge reviews evidence and issues the divorce order, a conclusive ruling on the case, often delivered within weeks or months.


Contested divorces in Virginia demand meticulous navigation, and the intricacies of the process underscore the importance of legal representation. A seasoned family law attorney can guide individuals through the complexities, offering expertise to navigate the challenging terrain of a contested divorce in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Understanding the Virginia Contested Divorce Process (2024)
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