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The ABCs of a Virginia divorce

Most residents of Virginia who are contemplating seeking a divorce will hire an attorney to advise and represent them in this arduous process. Nevertheless, knowing what to expect in a divorce can help a person ask the right questions when choosing an attorney.

A person who seeks a divorce in Virginia must be a resident of the state for at least six months before the complaint is filed. In addition to the residency requirement, the couple must be legally separated for at least six months and have a written property agreement which both have signed. If the couple has minor children, the separation period is one year. The divorce proceeding formally begins when one or, occasionally, both spouses file a complaint for divorce. The complaint must be served on the other party and filed in the circuit court in the county where at least one party resides. The party who files the complaint must pay a filing fee of $86.00 plus other fees that may be imposed by the county. The party on whom the complaint is served will have 20 days to reply.

Each party must file a disclosure of assets and liabilities with the court. This information will be used to resolve issues of child support, spousal support and property division. If the parties cannot agree on how to divide their assets, the court will issue an order determining which spouse gets which assets. In Virginia, the courts are directed to make an equitable distribution of assets that takes into account each spouse’s assets, the couple’s joint assets and individual and marital debts. For most couples, the family residence is their major asset, and dividing the equity in the house can be a major sticking point in reaching a settlement. The court will also decide which parent will receive custody of the children and which parent will pay child support. If either spouse requests alimony from the other spouse, the court will decide whether and how much alimony will be paid.

Divorces can be unexpectedly complicated and most documents published by the courts tell people who are considering a divorce to retain an experienced counsel. An experienced divorce attorney can provide a useful evaluation of the facts of the case, suggest strategies for retaining assets or obtaining child custody and provide court representation.

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