Divorces in Virginia generally fall into two categories, contested and uncontested.
An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties have a property settlement agreement, as well as a proposed custody and visitation plan if there are children. In an uncontested situation, a Final Divorce can be granted if the parties have been separated for twelve months, or six months if there are no minor children and the parties have entered into a separation agreement.
“Separation” in this context means the parties have lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption. Additionally, at least one of the parties must have intended for separation to be permanent at the time it commenced.
In Fairfax, while a hearing is not technically required, most judges will have a hearing, known as an “ore tenus” hearing, to allow one or both parties to request that the judge sign off on the final decree immediately.
A contested divorce is one in which the spouses cannot agree on at least one (and usually more than one) aspect of their divorce. In Virginia, a final divorce can be granted for the following grounds:
- Separation of Twelve Months
- Felony conviction and confinement in excess of one year
- Cruelty or causing “reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt” after a period of one year from the date of the acts; and
- Willful desertion or abandonment after a period of one year from the date of the act.
The first stage of a contested divorce is usually a “pendente lite” hearing at which the court decides on temporary living arrangements, temporary visitation and custody, and spousal and child support until a final divorce decree can be entered. A “pendente lite” order will not have any presumptive effect on the determination made by the court in its final decree but will remain in effect as long as the suit is pending until the final decree is entered.
The next stage is the discovery process where necessary information can be gathered to learn about the assets and financial positions of the other side as well as investigate the grounds for the divorce, if a “fault” divorce is sought.
Finally, there will be hearing to determine custody, support, and division of property as well as the terms of each.