Virginia Family Law: An Overview
Whether you’re getting married or divorced, or if you need help with getting custody of your child, Virginia’s family laws come into play. Virginia law provides a legal standard for things like alimony, child support and marital property distribution. A family law attorney can help you navigate the complex legalities regulating your case and help keep things civil in highly emotional disputes.
If you have a family law case in Fairfax, Richmond, Chesapeake or elsewhere in Virginia, LawInfo is your source for information and legal help. LawInfo’s Virginia Family Law section includes legal overviews, summaries of state laws and other resources to help you make the right decisions for you and your family.
Virginia Marriage Requirements
It’s easy for couples to get swept up in the emotions of marriage but not just anyone can get married in Virginia. Certain conditions surrounding the marriage and qualifications of each spouse may prohibit a marriage from being legalized in Virginia. A person cannot legally marry in Virginia if:
- They are younger than 18 years of age, unless a minor age 16 or 17 attains parental consent.
- They are currently married to a third party. (Bigamy is prohibited.)
- They are related to their partner as parent, child, sibling, aunt/uncle or nephew/niece.
- They lacked the mental or physical capacity to consent to the marriage.
Virginia Marriage License
Once a couple meets the legal qualifications for marriage, they must apply for a Virginia marriage license before their wedding ceremony. A marriage license is an important part of the marriage process that legalizes the union. When applying for family insurance or other benefits requiring a marital status, the marriage license legally proves that you and your spouse are married and qualified for those benefits.
Both resident and non-resident couples may apply for a license at any Virginia circuit court. Once you receive your license, you have 60 days to perform your ceremony before it expires. There is no waiting period upon receiving your license.
Virginia Divorce Requirements
In Virginia, couples may get divorced based on “fault” or “no-fault” grounds. Whether a divorce was granted on fault or no-fault grounds may affect future legal decisions including child custody and marital property distribution. Virginia courts require divorces applications to meet one or more of the following grounds:
- One or both spouses committed adultery, including sodomy or buggery.
- One spouse was convicted for a felony and imprisoned for more than one year.
- One spouse cruelly abused the other.
- One spouse willfully abandoned the other for one year or longer.
- Both spouses have lived separately and apart for six months or longer.
The first four grounds require one spouse to petition the other to assign specific fault for the divorce. The fifth groundóseparation for six months or longeróis a no-fault ground for divorce in Virginia, meaning that no one is specifically to blame for the divorce.
In addition to meeting these grounds, the spouse who filed for divorce must have been a Virginia resident for six months or longer.
Distribution of Marital Property in Virginia
When a couple gets divorced in Virginia, each divorcee is not automatically entitled to half of all assets (property and income) and liabilities (debts). Few states enforce marital property distribution based on “community property” lawsóthose that evenly split the distribution of marital property. Instead, Virginia has equitable distribution laws.
With Virginia’s equitable distribution laws, the court decides what percentage of marital property each divorcee is awarded based on 11 factors. These factors include:
- How long the marriage lasted.
- How old each divorcee is and their respective mental and physical health.
- What tax consequences the divorce and property awards will have on each divorcee.
- How and when property was acquired.
Things like fault grounds for divorce and child custody typically influence distribution. While it’s possible that divorcees may be rewarded a 50/50 split, a disproportionate division is more likely. However the court decides to distribute property, though, it is always fair.
Only assets and liabilities that were acquired during the marriage are typically the only property considered for distribution. Gifts and inheritances acquired during the marriage by one spouse aren’t typically considered unless the other spouse somehow shared in its ownership.
When Do I Need a Virginia Family Law Attorney?
Whether you need a family law attorney depends on a number of factors specific to your case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Few couples need a lawyer to get married but attorneys may be required if there’s a prenuptial agreement involved.
Individuals often benefit from hiring an attorney when dealing with divorce, child support, and especially child custody matters. Because emotions can run high during some divorces, hiring an attorney to negotiate and resolve difficult issues can be invaluable.
Many lawyers offer free initial consultations, so it may be worth your time to speak with an experienced Virginia family law attorney if you have additional questions.