Getting to the Finish Line in An Uncontested Divorce
These days, more and more divorcing couples are opting to pursue alternatives to litigation like mediation and collaborative divorce. When these processes are over and an agreement has been reached, there are still some important formalities to complete in order to be legally divorced in Virginia.
File for Divorce
Believe it or not, filing a formal case for divorce in the Circuit Court is not necessarily the first step. Couples in a family law dispute routinely begin to work to resolve their situation amicably without going to court at all. Regardless of the point a couple has reached in their private resolution, there are certain requirements before a divorce case can be filed. Chief among these is the requirement of living permanently separate and apart with the intent to divorce. In Virginia, an uncontested divorce action cannot be filed until a married couple with children has been separated for at least one year. For a married couple with no minor children and an executed, written agreement, they need to be separated for at least six months before they are able to file. To be sure that you meet the requirements for “living permanently separate and apart with the intent to divorce” consult a family law attorney.
Obtain A Final Order of Divorce
In order for the case to be completed and a divorce finalized, a judge needs to see certain documents. These include the Complaint that initiates the action, an Answer from the other party, and affidavits confirming that the parties have been separated for the proper period of time. The judge will also need a Final Order of Divorce signed by the parties or their attorneys, and an original of the written agreement. From initial filing of the case, it depends on the parties how quickly they gather the documents and information required. Often, it takes a few weeks before all of the documents are ready to be submitted. Once the submission is complete, the judge will review it and consider whether it satisfies the requirements for divorce in Virginia. If the case meets the requirements, then the judge will sign the Final Order of Divorce. Once the Final Order of Divorce is signed by the judge, then the divorce is official. It routinely takes about four to six weeks from submission of the file to receipt of the final order.
Obtain a Retirement Division Order
While the divorce is finalized through the process described above, one of the most significant, and regulated assets of a marital estate are the retirement accounts. Unlike other assets whose division can be resolved in an agreement between the parties, retirement funds often need an additional court order(s). Without an order, the parties might have the division treated like an “early withdrawal” of the assets, and they can be subjected to taxes and penalties as a result. The Retirement Division Order (generally known as QDROs or “Qualified Domestic Relations Orders”) can be requested any time after the case is filed with the court. Given the amount of time that filings take to work their way through the court, this means that the Retirement Division Order will be issued at the same time or after the Final Order of Divorce. Like the Final Order of Divorce, it takes about four to six weeks to process the order. Once the executed order has been received by the parties, the parties can work with the institution holding the retirement assets to make the division happen in accordance with the order. Since most institutions have their own requirements and procedures for this process, it is important to consult with them before obtaining the order so that the order contains the right language. If the order does not contain the right language, then the parties must obtain a new order, starting over from the first step until it properly conforms with the institution’s requirements.
Other Loose Ends
There are other smaller transactions that may need to happen once an agreement is reached, such as signing over the title of a car, or dealing with tax returns. Check out our Wrapping Up Loose Ends After a Divorce blog here.
Divorcing involves a lot of moving parts, so it helps to be organized and informed before beginning the formal legal process. While the steps themselves seem fairly straightforward, it is a good idea to consult with counsel to make sure all the formalities are being met. If you want to know more about completing a divorce in Virginia, contact Reese Law today.
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