How Long Does a Divorce Take in Northern Virginia?

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Key Takeaways

Residency Requirement: At least one spouse must have lived in Virginia for a minimum of six months before filing for divorce.

Types of Divorce: Divorces are categorized as either uncontested or contested, with uncontested being quicker and simpler.

Grounds for Divorce: Options include no-fault divorce based on separation or fault-based grounds like adultery, cruelty, or felony conviction, each with different waiting periods.

Separation Periods: For uncontested divorces, a one-year separation is required if there are minor children involved, and six months if there aren’t.

Contested Divorce Duration: More time-consuming due to legal complexities, disputes, and necessary legal procedures like mediation and discovery.

Child-Related Matters: Decisions regarding custody, visitation, and support are based on the child’s best interests.

Whether you are relieved or upset by the decision to file for a divorce, it is essential to understand that your divorce might take longer than expected. The legal process for marriage dissolution can be lengthy and challenging for you to handle while going through emotional turmoil. If you need help with a contested or uncontested divorce in Northern Virginia, contact the experienced divorce attorneys at the ShounBach law office today.

What is the Residency Requirement in Virginia for Getting a Divorce?

husband and wife signing divorce paperwork

Before you can file for a divorce in Virginia, you must meet the residency requirement. For the divorce process to go forward in front of a Virginia court, you or your spouse must live in Virginia for at least six months immediately preceding the divorce filing.

The residency requirements apply to everyone. They also apply to any of your friends who are military service members stationed at a home port or base in Virginia.

Legal Grounds for Divorce in Virginia

While you are bound to have several questions about filing and obtaining a Virginia divorce, one of the most common questions pertains to the legal grounds on which you can file for divorce.

If you and your spouse choose to end the marriage, you can file a divorce petition for a divorce based on having met a required period of separation from your spouse, which people often think of as a “no-fault” divorce. However, if your situation is more complicated and you wish to seek a fault-based divorce, you can file under one of the fault based grounds for divorce in Virginia.

These fault based grounds revolve around misconduct on behalf of your spouse, such as adultery, cruelty, or conviction of a felony.

The waiting period before you can file for divorce is usually one year but can vary depending on your grounds for the divorce.


For those filing under the grounds of adultery, there is no mandatory waiting period, and divorce papers can be filed immediately.


Divorces filed under the legal grounds of cruelty include domestic assault, abandonment, and desertion. The waiting period for the innocent spouse to finalize a divorce on the grounds of cruelty is at least one full year from the misconduct date.

Conviction of a Felony

If your spouse is convicted of a felony and receives a sentence of more than a year of confinement, and is confined for such felony after conviction, the waiting period is waived, and the divorce can be filed earlier.

How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?

There are two types of divorce – contested and uncontested.

Suppose your divorce is amicable and both parties agree on everything, such as assets, property division, child custody, child support, and alimony. In that case, the divorce is considered uncontested, meaning the divorce process will likely be easier and less time-consuming.

If you have minor children, you will need to be separated for one year before you can file for divorce. If you and your spouse have no minor children, the required legal separation time is only six months before you are eligible to file for divorce.

The process begins with the drafting and signing of a settlement agreement, which will subsequently be filed with the court. The judge will review this settlement and determine whether or not it meets the requirements of Virginia law. There will be no need to litigate as the terms of the agreement are uncontested and agreed to by both parties already.

How Long Will a Contested Divorce Take?

Understandably, not all divorces can be resolved easily. When this is the case, you will need to file for what is known as a contested divorce.

This type of divorce will require additional time to resolve legally. How much time will depend on various factors, such as the disputes between parties, the number of assets, the existence of minor children, and more.

You will also need to go through the legal process, which consists of several steps that can increase the length of time that a divorce will take. For example, you may need to hire experts to assess the value of assets, which can add additional steps to the divorce process.

For an idea of what to expect, we have outlined the steps that may occur before a divorce can be finalized.


Mediation is when both parties try to negotiate to avoid a trial. The goal of mediation is to reach a settlement and produce a written legal agreement, thus avoiding the need to continue with litigation. However, if both parties are steadfast in their demands, it is more than likely that this step in the process will be unsuccessful. If mediation is unsuccessful, the divorce will likely have to go to trial.

While mediation is not a requirement in divorce cases, a judge may order this step in certain custody and support matters before resorting to litigation. When mediation is ordered by a court in a custody or support matter, you will be provided the services of a free mediator. Consult with a knowledgeable Northern Virginia lawyer if you have concerns or questions about the mediation process.


The discovery phase is an essential part of any contested divorce proceeding. It includes a fixed time frame for fact-finding and evidence collection to help each party develop their case. This phase can take considerable time to complete and may result in high expenses for both parties.

Tools most often included in the discovery phase include:

  • Interrogatories, where the other party’s divorce lawyer provides you with written questions to answer under oath and in a timely manner
  • Requests to produce documents, outlining which documents you will need to give to the other side within an established period of time, usually within 21 days
  • Depositions, where the other party’s attorney will ask you questions, likely in-person, while you are under oath


If no settlement agreement is reached and the divorce makes it to a courtroom, a judge will make the final decision rather than a jury. A court date will need to be set for the trial. The trial date is typically set anywhere between a few months of the request for a court trial and a year or more after such request.

The court calendar can be full for months on end, extending the divorce process even longer, as a date can be pushed out due to backlog.

Once at trial, however, a divorce can move quickly and entails the presentation of evidence and witness testimony.

Child Custody and Child Support

daughter sitting between her parents arguing

Child custody, visitation, and child support will also be decided during the divorce process, if you have minor children with your spouse. The court’s decision on the custody of minor children will be based on the child’s best interests and may grant joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or sole custody. Visitation rights will also be established for the non-custodial parent.

Regardless of the child custody decision, both parents retain an obligation to support the children financially. Under state law, the Virginia Child Support Guidelines determine the appropriate level of child support to be paid, absent a compelling reason to deviate from the child support guidelines.

Alimony (Spousal Support)

Spouses also have a distinct duty to support each other financially, and the determination of alimony addresses this duty. The amount of alimony granted to one party will depend on the overall need of the requesting party and on the other party’s ability to pay.

The judge will determine this spousal support before the divorce proceedings are finalized.

As you can see, contested divorces require considerably more time to resolve and can easily be dragged out by either party. Contested divorces are also typically more expensive. Seek the legal advice and guidance of an experienced Northern Virginia attorney to help protect your rights and to work toward an acceptable resolution as quickly as possible to save yourself the time, money, and emotional toll of a drawn-out court proceeding.

Benefits of Hiring a Northern Virginia Divorce Attorney

Whether you are seeking an uncontested or contested divorce, you may need the help of a Virginia divorce attorney.

For an uncontested divorce, an attorney can help develop an agreement between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, keeping it compliant with Virginia divorce laws. Doing so can shorten the overall time frame of the divorce, and allow the judge to simply review the agreement and grant the divorce decree.

If the divorce is contested, however, your partner will likely hire an attorney to help in the legal process, meaning you should also retain an attorney to protect your rights.

In addition, the dissolution of marriage can often be full of emotion, resulting in arguments over even the most minor details. An attorney will help you through these times by finding solutions while continuing communications with the other side so you do not have to do so alone.

Legal representation is also beneficial in divorces where there are substantial assets and marital property to divide or complicated financial issues involved.

Overall, your Virginia attorney can assist in the mediation and discovery phases of the divorce process and help you reach a fairer agreement with the other party. Suppose mediation is impossible, and you must go to court to obtain a final divorce decree. In that case, you will benefit from having an attorney knowledgeable in Virginia divorce law and family law issues, including child custody, child support, and alimony.

Are You Ready For Us to Negotiate, Mediate, and Litigate For You?

Whether you are undergoing an uncontested divorce and need to create or review an agreement, or you recognize that your divorce will be contested and require several additional legal steps, ShounBach is here to help.

Our experienced family law attorneys will negotiate, mediate, and, if necessary, litigate on your behalf. Our top priority is to protect your rights and help you obtain what you need while we guide you through the divorce process as quickly as possible. Call our Northern Virginia law firm today at 703-222-3333 or fill out our online contact form to get started.

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Written By ShounBach

Since 1975, ShounBach has served the Northern Virginia community. Our team brings over 200 years of combined legal experience and has grown to be one of Virginia’s largest family and estate law firms.

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