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Contested Divorce in Virginia

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Contested Divorce in Virginia
Contested Divorce in Virginia

Contested Divorce in Virginia

A contested divorce in Virginia (or probably anywhere) can be one of the most difficult things a person goes through in their life. Unfortunately marriages don't always last. There are any number of reasons and it is not always any one person's fault. When this happens it creates any number of stressors and problems. If this leads to a divorce, sometimes it becomes a contested divorce. When we talk about a contested divorce in Virginia we are really talking about a divorce without an agreement. There is an entire section on this page devoted to the difference between uncontested versus contested divorces.

After over 25 years of experience as an attorney, I have come to see many, many contested divorces. As a result, I am able to handle variables that may appear in your case. That is important because no 2 cases are the same. Experience matters. As does skill in litigation. I have been recognized for my skill in handling contested divorces in Virginia. Both of these will help navigate you during the contested divorce process. Also feel to read our Reviews by our clients to learn more about us.

In this Post, we will be discussing the following topics. This is a list of links to make it easier to navigate through this page.

What is a Contested Divorce in Virginia?

A contested divorce in Virginia is one where the Court has to make a decision. By this I mean that one or more issues in the divorce cannot be or are not agreed upon and, as a result, the Court has to make the decision for the parties. There can be a contested divorce that has only one issue to decide (ex., equity in the marital residence) or all of the issues. Since both sides are presenting their positions that is what makes the divorce contested. There is a section below discussing uncontested vs contested divorce in Virginia on this page if you would like more details.

Uncontested vs Contested Divorce in Virginia

There are really only two types of divorces that exist - contested and uncontested. Here is the difference - a Separation Agreement or Property Settlement Agreement. In a nutshell, a Separation Agreement is a document that the parties (the divorcing folks) create and sign to resolve all of the issues in a divorce. Think of it as a contract to end the marriage. It handles everything from real estate to bills to support as well as custody and visitation. I will talk later about Separation Agreements in another post.

An uncontested divorce is one where the parties have entered into an Agreement so that there is nothing really for left for the Court to decide. At the final divorce hearing, the Judge simply enters the Final Divorce Decree and incorporates the terms of the Agreement into that Order. Easy. This is the best route for most people to go because it is faster, cheaper and does not leave the decision to a stranger who does not know anything about you and your family other than the evidence at trial.

A contested divorce means that there is no Agreement. This is one where the Court has to decide everything. If you can avoid this I strongly recommend that you do. It takes control away from you and gives it to the Court. Remember, the Court does not get to hear everything because there are rules of evidence and procedure that may limit what you get to present as well as what the Court can consider. Also, the other side is trying to put their best foot forward to get the best possible results. This can result in you getting less than what you need to survive.

There can be an uncontested divorce without a written Agreement...sort of. It is still technically contested. The parties can come to Court, sign off on the Divorce Decree and leave nothing really for the Court to decide. This does not happen that often and there still may be lengthy procedural hoops that you have to go through to get there.

An uncontested divorce can become contested. Even though there is an Agreement, there are some things that are never "final" in the eyes of Virginia law. Custody, visitation and child support are the main ones. These are never permanent because the Court is always looking out for the best interests of the child. What was good in 2008 may not be good in 2018. Additionally, child support belongs to the child so even if the parties agree on Monday to a support amount they can go back to Court on Friday depending on whether certain factors have been met. Again, a topic for another post.

So this is the nutshell version of Virginia divorces. As Virginia divorce attorneys we have run the gamut of the different types of divorce. As always, this is not designed to be specific to your case as each case is different and should be treated as such. This is NOT legal advice but something to consider when you speak with a divorce lawyer or family law lawyer. It is my belief that providing as much information as possible to our clients before the come in is always the best because a better educated client means that he or she can help us help them.

What Happens in a Contested Divorce in Virginia?

A contested divorce in Virginia is a process where married persons are divorcing and cannot agree on what happens. As a result, the Court (a Judge) has to decide for them. To get to that phase, which is the end by the way, the parties have to go through the contested divorce process.

The contested divorce process starts with filing of a Complaint for divorce. The other side files paperwork responding to the Complaint and, if necessary, a response to that is filed. This is now where the process gets tedious. From here there is discovery which consists of Interrogatories, Requests for Production, Requests for Admission and, perhaps, depositions. There are also subpoenas to obtain materials, documents, videos, etc. Also during this time there can be various hearings primarily consisting of Motions. These Motions are matters that the Court needs to decide whether it is temporary or an issue for trial.

The last thing that happens, normally, is the final divorce trial. This is the end to all of process. This is not quite like you see on television or in the movies. It is a trial in front of a judge with witnesses testifying, evidence being introduced, objections being made and argument. The Judge then makes the final determination of whatever issues are left unresolved.

That's it. That what happens in a contested divorce in Virginia. While it may be an oversimplification of the process it provides a good outline. As always, every case is different so I can't post a "one size fits all" explanation of what happens in each and every case. These are general overviews and to find out about your specific situation I strongly recommend that you consult with a competent contested divorce attorney.

What are the Stages in a Contested Divorce in Virginia?

The stages in a contested divorce in Virginia are pretty straightforward. That does not mean that they are necessarily quick, fast or easy. I will not mislead you - it can be a lengthy process requiring effort on your part as well. This is because there could be a great number of issues to address, the availability of the lawyers involved, your schedule as well the Court's schedule. Unfortunately that is just the system.

The first stage is filing. A contested divorce action is started in Virginia when a Complaint for Divorce is filed. This is the document that starts the divorce process in Virginia. The Plaintiff is the person who filed the Complaint. That Complaint is served upon the spouse (known as the Defendant) who then has 21 days after being served to file a response. The Answer is typically that document that is filed although there are other types of responses. In the Answer the Defendant responds to the allegations made in Complaint for a contested divorce. Typically the Defendant will also file a Cross Complaint which is the Defendant's version of a Complaint in the divorce process. The Plaintiff will have 21 days after being served to respond.

The next stage of the contested divorce process in Virginia is known as Pretrial Litigation. This is the time when the parties to the divorce exchange and gather information. The process of information gathering is known as discovery. There can also be other motions or hearings filed during this time. This is the process to prepare for trial.

During Pretrial Litigation there can be hearings to decide some pressing issues during the divorce process. This is called a Pendente Lite hearing (pronounced "pen-dent-ay lee-tay"). Think of this as a band aid to address pressing issues such as custody, visitation, bills, support, etc.

The final stage of Virginia's contested divorce process is the trial. This is where the evidence is put before the Court and the Court makes the final determination regarding your divorce. In the overwhelming majority of circumstances this is the final stage in the divorce.

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take in Virginia?

Another common question that we receive from clients or potential clients is how long will a contested divorce take in Virginia. Unfortunately this is another one of those questions that the answer is really it depends. As I stated in the another section on this page, there are 3 stages in the Virginia contested divorce process. This process can be relatively fast or it can be extremely long. The biggest hurdle to giving a deadline are the schedules of the Court and the Judicial Settlement Conference Judge. Some of these schedules can be distant. So I really cannot give a definitive time as to how long your or any contested divorce will take in Virginia as there are just too many variables.

How Much Does a Contested Divorce Cost in Virginia?

We often get asked the cost for a contested divorce in Virginia. It is a fair question. It could be (but should not be) one of the determining factors of whom you hire. You also need to budget, plan and figure out how to pay lawyer's fees and live during the divorce process.

The short answer is that I do not know how much your contested divorce will cost. No one does. There are a variety of factors to consider - the number of issues, the amount of hearings that occur, the cost of discovery and exchanging or obtaining information, the problems or issues that arise, and even the difficulty of the lawyer on the other side. If someone tells you the total cost of your divorce then odds are that person is telling you what you want to hear to get your money. I'm sorry that I cannot give you a better answer than this but it is the truth.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send us our Consultation Form or call us at 757-454-2110.

This article was written with Ryan E. Thum, Esq., who is a family law attorney as well. He can be reached at or at 757-818-8293 if you would like to chat with him.

If you have more questions or want to speak with me, you can always visit our Home page by clicking on this link to read more or to set up a free consultation with a lawyer. You can also call or text us at 757-454-2110. We also have on our site an online consultation form. Again, our initial consultation with a lawyer about your case is free so it costs you nothing to call and ask your questions.

For more information, feel free to visit our exclusive family law site for information on divorce, separation, child custody, child visitation, spousal support and child support at

And do not forget to scroll to the bottom as there may be related posts that answer other questions that you have or did not think of when you found this post. Thank you for reading this and I appreciate your time.

/s/ Brian and Ryan

You can always call or text us at 757-454-2110 or Ryan at 757-818-8293

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