Once Someone Files for a Divorce in Virginia, What Is the Timeline and What Steps Happen Next Before the Divorce Is Finalized?
The first step in a divorce is filing what’s called the divorce complaint. The party who initiates the divorce files the complaint, which includes what the party is asking for in the divorce and has to meet certain requirements to qualify as a proper complaint. The divorce complaint then gets served on the opposing party, giving them notice that the divorce has started, and then the opposing party has 21 days to answer that complaint. If they do not answer, they risk the court taking their silence as no objection to anything in the complaint.
After the answer, both parties have to submit either notarized and sworn affidavits or have an oral hearing. In uncontested divorces, people generally do affidavits, which are quicker and easier because they can be submitted through the mail, rather than people having to be physically present in court (as with an oral hearing).
Next, the parties have to submit the final decree. Once that’s submitted, the parties wait for the judge to sign off on it. The final decree can be pretty complicated, and each document has very stringent requirements. Though these requirements are consistent across the state of Virginia, some courts are stricter than others about how the requirements are laid out and whether set forms are used.
What Are the Different Types of Custody and Visitation Arrangements in Virginia?
There is an endless number of possibilities for custody and visitation, especially here in the Hampton Roads area, which is a military town with all kinds of unique arrangements. In short, if you can come up with something that works for you, the opposing party, and the children, Virginia is willing to give that arrangement a try. There are long-distance arrangements where it’s not uncommon to see that one party has the children throughout the school year while the other party has the children throughout the majority of the summer and on alternating holidays. Some people who live in closer proximity will do a fifty-fifty arrangement, which has different variations as well. It’s very common to do one week on and one week off. Some people like to alternate every three to four days, and others have the classic arrangement of every other weekend with maybe an extra day on the off weeks.
There are also varying levels of visitation. For example, if someone has some kind of issue that calls into question their ability to safely care for the children on their own, they may have supervised visitations. This usually happens when a person has been using drugs or something of that nature. The goal is for the parent to increase their ability to safely care for the children as they wean off the drugs, so the supervised visitations do not continue forever.
Sometimes while a case is still pending, the court will put into place a temporary custody and visitation order. This is the schedule that the parties must follow while the parties work to reach a more permanent agreement outside of court or in a trial at a later date. Temporary custody can serve as a trial period for that particular visitation schedule to see if it will work, and if it’s successful, it may be entered as a permanent order at the end. If the temporary agreement does not work, the parties might try a different arrangement or will eventually have to go to trial to have the judge order a different arrangement.
How Is Custody Determined in Virginia? Is There Anything Else Regarding the Best Interests of the Children?
For all custody cases in Virginia, the best interest of the children is standard. Section 20-124.3 of the Virginia Code contains a list of factors that the court uses in determining what will be the best custody arrangement for the children. If you petition the court for custody, the court will use the Virginia Code to weigh the facts of your case. In a divorce case, either party may request that the court assign a guardian ad litem, who is an attorney that represents the children’s best interest. The guardian ad litem will help determine what arrangement would best meet the children’s needs. The guardian ad litem does not represent the children in the same way that a regular party would hire an attorney to help them. Sometimes the child’s best interest contradicts what the child actually wants, so this distinction is important. The guardian ad litem is there to conduct an independent investigation and then make a recommendation to the court regarding what they believe is in the best interest of the children. The guardian ad litem can be helpful in finding information that might not otherwise be discovered, and they can protect the child from having to testify in court by acting as the child’s voice.
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