What to Expect in Virginia Family Courts

If you are navigating the complex area of divorce and custody proceedings in the state of Virginia, it’s essential to have an understanding of what you can anticipate during this challenging time. This article aims to provide you with insights into the processes, procedures, and laws that govern family court proceedings in Virginia, ensuring you are well-prepared for your case.

Filing for Divorce in Virginia

In Virginia, when filing for divorce, it’s important to understand the residency requirements. At least one spouse must have been a resident of Virginia for at least six months before filing the petition for divorce. Additionally, if you have minor children, you must have been separated for at least one year before seeking a no-fault divorce. However, if you can demonstrate fault grounds for divorce, such as adultery or cruelty, you may be eligible for an immediate divorce without the one-year separation requirement. Consult Virginia Code Section 20-91 for specific details on the grounds for divorce.

Virginia is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property and debts are distributed fairly, not necessarily equally, upon divorce. The court takes into consideration numerous factors, including the duration of the marriage, each party’s contributions, and the circumstances of the separation, to determine the most equitable division. Familiarize yourself with Virginia Code Section 20-107.3 to gain a deeper understanding of equitable distribution laws in the state.

Child Custody and Visitation

When it comes to child custody and visitation matters, Virginia courts prioritize the best interests of the child. There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody determines who has decision-making authority regarding important aspects of the child’s life, such as healthcare, education, and religion. Sole legal custody may be granted to one parent, while joint legal custody allows both parents to make these decisions jointly. Virginia Code Section 20-124.1 provides the legal framework for the determination of custody and visitation arrangements.

The court generally encourages parents to work together and develop a mutually agreed-upon parenting plan. However, if the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court will step in and consider various factors to make a custody determination, focusing on the child’s physical and emotional well-being. The court may consider the child’s preferences, the parenting abilities of each party, the child’s relationships with siblings or other family members, and any history of abuse or neglect.

Visitation rights and schedules, including overnights and holidays, are established based on the child’s best interests. The Virginia courts promote frequent and continuing contact with both parents, unless there is evidence of abuse or other harmful circumstances. It’s crucial to consult a knowledgeable family lawyer to help navigate the complexities of child custody and visitation cases, particularly when factors such as relocation come into play.

Spousal Support and Child Support

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is determined by considering the financial needs and abilities of each spouse, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living established during the marriage. The courts may also take into account the age, physical and mental condition, and the earning capacity of the spouses. Virginia Code Section 20-107.1 outlines the factors that determine spousal support.

Child support guidelines in Virginia are based on the “income shares” model, which takes into account both parents’ incomes and the number of children. The court uses specific formulas, outlined in Virginia Code Section 20-108.2, to calculate child support amounts. Additional factors such as healthcare costs, daycare expenses, and any special needs of the child may also influence the final determination.

Understanding the complexities of both spousal and child support calculations is essential to ensure a fair outcome. Consulting an experienced family lawyer can help you navigate these matters and advocate for your rights.


Going through a divorce or child custody battle is undoubtedly a challenging experience. However, with a clear understanding of what to expect in Virginia family courts, you can better prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Remember, every case is unique, and seeking professional guidance from a qualified family lawyer is crucial to ensure your rights are protected and your best interests are served.