Differences Between an Uncontested and a Contested Divorce in Virginia
By: John Whitbeck
One of the questions we are often asked is, “What is the difference between an uncontested and a contested divorce in Virginia?” This is not something unique to Virginia. Most simply put, an uncontested divorce is one where both parties are in agreement about everything. A contested divorce means just that, one or both parties are contesting some issues that keep the divorce from being finalized.
You might assume then that you don’t need an attorney for an uncontested divorce. That is not necessarily true. An experienced Virginia divorce attorney can also play an essential role in these situations.
Eligibility for Divorce in Virginia
Before filing for divorce, it is important to ensure that you are eligible to file in the first place — you must have lived in Virginia for a minimum of six months, and there has to be a valid reason for divorce, known as the grounds of divorce. Virginia allows for both a fault and no-fault divorce. To qualify for the no-fault, you and your spouse must reside separately for at least 12 months before the divorce if you have minor children. This requirement is reduced to six months if you don’t have children. Fault-based divorces are due to specific issues like cruelty, abandonment, or adultery.
What is an Uncontested Divorce?
When you proceed with an uncontested divorce, it means that both spouses are in agreement with getting divorced (the grounds of your divorce) and have resolved all issues related to the division of marital assets and debts, child custody and visitation, and any necessary child support or alimony.
Some Virginia divorce matters may start out as contested, but through dispute resolution efforts, the parties resolve outstanding issues. This results in a property settlement agreement that is given to the judge to sign off on, and then the divorce can be finalized without a trial. You may still have an appearance or two, and the judge won’t sign off on an agreement unless it appears fair and in the best interests of your child.
Speaking to an experienced Virginia divorce attorney can help you through this process.
What is a Contested Divorce?
Uncontested divorces do not work for everyone. When you have a spouse who refuses to negotiate, is hard to communicate with, had an affair, or was abusive, it can be a more challenging and expensive process to get your divorce finalized. Even if you and your spouse are amicable, but you are in disagreement over one small thing, it is still a contested divorce. Many divorces are contested just because numerous legal issues need resolving before a judge will finalize your divorce. These can include:
- Division of marital assets and debts
- Spousal support or alimony
- Child visitation rights
- Child support
Every divorce is different; therefore, there is no magic date that your divorce will be finalized. Contested divorces may last a few months, but some processes have lasted several years. The sooner a divorcing couple can resolve their outstanding issues, the sooner the judge will sign off. If you cannot resolve your pending issues, you will be waiting for the Virginia family court judge to hold a trial where he or she will render a decision so the divorce can be finalized.
To learn more about divorce, visit our Divorce Law page.
Related: Divorce Law
John C. Whitbeck, Jr. is the founder of WhitbeckBennett. His practice focuses on family law, special education law, and mental health law. He regularly practices in several jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area. He has also been certified as an expert witness in litigation.