Divorce: The Basics in Northern Virginia

Actual divorce litigation begins with one party filing a document called a Complaint for Divorce in Virginia, in the Circuit Court, usually in the county ( Fairfax / Arlington) or city ( Vienna VA, McLean, etc…) where the party lives in Virginia or where the parties last lived together as husband and wife. The clerk of the Circuit Court will prepare the initial pleading to be served upon the other party. Service of process can be through the sheriff or by hiring a private process server. Once the other party is served, he or she will have 21 days to file a responsive pleading called an Answer as well as a Counter-Complaint. The initiating party will then have 21 days after receiving the Counter-Complaint to file an answer to that document. The parties will likely exchange what is called, “discovery”, which is a series of questions called interrogatories and require that each party produce documents, based on a “request for production of documents”. Responses to discovery are required to be sent within 21 days of receiving them, although extensions are often granted. If party fails to timely respond to discovery or does not provide all of the requested documents or answer all of the interrogatories as asked, the party who issued the discovery can file a motion to compel the other party to do so, which can result in the non-prevailing party paying the other party’s attorneys fees. Depositions may also be held, during which a party and other witnesses may be required to answer questions under oath in the presence of a court reporter, who will record everything that is said. During the entire process, negotiations towards settlement can and should be ongoing. If the case does not settle, In Virginia a trial date will be set. A divorce case in Virginia that must go to trial will usually conclude within approximately one year from the date the case is filed.

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