Divorce and Financial Support
A guide for spouses ending their marriage in Virginia

Use this guide to deal with divorce or separation from a partner

Are you separating from a spouse or partner? This guide can help you figure out the legal process of how to separate or divorce. It can also guide you when it comes to money questions, like child support or spousal support.

If You Need More Help

You can contact your local Virginia legal aid group by calling 1-866-534-5243.

You can also lookup your local legal aid group at https://www.vba.org/page/pro_bono_legalaid.

Lawyers can help you understand your options and next steps for your specific situation. Legal aid lawyers provide free help to people who qualify.

Step-by-Step Guide

To understand how divorce, child support, and spousal support works in Virginia

Video Guides

To understand how divorce and child support work in Virginia

Frequently Asked Questions

About what you can do for specific divorce, child support, and spousal support issues in Virginia

Step-by-step guide to Divorce
How do you go through a divorce in Virginia?

Step 1:

Make sure Virginia is the right state for filing a divorce


To file for divorce, one spouse must have lived in Virginia and considered it to be their home for 6 months before the filing.

Make sure that at least one of the spouses has this connection to Virginia.

Step 2:

Decide if you want a 'No-Fault' divorce


You can get a No-Fault divorce if you have been separated for a long enough time. Or you can file for a Fault divorce if you can prove specific 'fault' grounds.

For Fault Divorce in Virginia:

To file for a Fault Divorce, you will need to prove that one of these situations exist:

  • Adultery or other sexual acts outside the marriage;
  • Felony conviction with a sentence of at least 1 year and some imprisonment;
  • Abandonment or willful desertion; or
  • Reasonable fear of bodily harm.

If you choose to file for a divorce based on Fault, then you will have to show proof in court that one of these situations has happened. Your spouse can also raise some defenses against it.

If you file for a divorce based on a fault, then you might get a different division of property or alimony. Talk to a lawyer to understand more about your option.

For No-Fault Divorce: Make sure you have waited long enough after separation.

To file for a "no-fault divorce", you must be separated from your spouse for either:

  • 6 months of separation if you don't have minor children (under 18), or if you have a written agreement about the division of property and spousal support (sometimes called a Property Settlement Agreement, or a Separation Agreement)
  • 1 year of separation if you do have minor children, or if you do not have a written agreement about settlement

It's possible to establish that spouses have separated even if they continue living in the same house. But it's easier to establish the separation if the spouses live apart.


Get started on Custody, Visitation, and Financial Support


While you are in the separation period, you can start working on custody, visitation, child support, and spousal support issues.

You may petition the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District (J&DR) Court in your jurisdiction to get started on making plans for these topics of children, money, and other support. 

Ideally, you and your spouse can make a written agreement about custody, visitation, and support. If you're unable to agree, the court has the power to make decisions about these issues. 

Learn more about custody & visitation at our legal help guide about these topics.

Or jump to the specific steps in this guide to take to request child support or to request spousal support.

Step 3:

See if you can do a DIY Divorce


If you and your spouse have resolved custody, visitation, child and spousal support, and division of property and debt, then you might be able to go through a Do It Yourself (DIY) Divorce online form. 

This means you can get the divorce without hiring a lawyer. You will also have less interaction with the court.

Find the Do It Yourself divorce interactive program at VALegalAid.org, that you can use for free.

Step 4:

Find the right Circuit Court to start your case


You will have to file a divorce complaint in the right Virginia Circuit Court. It should be in the city or county where you or your spouse lives. Look up your local Circuit Court here.

You will complete the divorce complaint, pay fees to the court for filing, and make sure the court will accept it.

Then you will have to make sure your spouse is served with the complaint and the summons. These papers should come from a third party, like a sheriff or a process server. This is to make sure your spouse gets legal notice of the divorce lawsuit, and that they can see your complaint.

Step 5:

Follow the court process until you finalize the divorce


Once the case is filed with the court, then the court will set the process. You have to follow this process whether you have a lawyer or not.

The court process will change depending on whether you and your spouse can decide on key issues. If there are disagreements about finances, custody, or other issues, then the court process will be more complicated.

Even if you do agree, you and your spouse will need to get an official settlement agreement.

Talking to a lawyer can help you understand your options, and the consequences of a settlement. You and your spouse cannot share the same lawyer.

Steps to get Child Support
For parents in Virginia

How can you get child support in Virginia?

Step 1: See if you qualify to request child support

A parent who has custody of the child can apply for child support, so that the other parent is paying money to cover the child's costs.

A third-party person (not the parent) who has custody of the child can also apply for child support.

Step 2: Make sure Virginia is the right place to be filing for child support

In Virginia, there are two different government agencies that can set up child support. These are the Juvenile & Domestic Relations (J&DR) Courts, and the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE).

J&DR courts and DCSE can only set up child support for children who are both:

  • under the age of 18, and
  • who have lived in Virginia for at least 6 months prior to the child support request being filed.

Even if one of the parents doesn't live in Virginia, the Virginia courts or agencies can set up child support as long as the child qualifies.

Step 3: Choose which way you want to request child support

If you need child support in Virginia, you may obtain it in one of three ways:

  1. Request child support in Circuit Court as part of your divorce, or
  2. File a petition in Juvenile & Domestic Relations Courts, or
  3. File an application with the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE).  

You should contact the Circuit Court, J&DR Court, or DCSE staff for help with filing the correct document.

You will file a petition or request to start the process.

Then make sure you follow all the next steps they tell you about, including hearings, document requests, trials, or other steps.

Step 4: An order may be granted

Once the process at the court or DCSE finishes, then a child support order may be created. You can ask for assistance from the staff to ensure that you understand exactly what the order says.

Explore this Child Support Calculator for Virginia to understand more about the money amounts will be calculated.

If you are a parent who wants to appeal a child support order, find resources at this page of DCSE.

Step 5: Make sure the order is enforced

If the child support payments are not being made, you can return to the court or DCSE to open an enforcement action. Contact the court or DCSE staff to ask about how to do this.

There are a variety of actions that DCSE or courts can take to enforce child support orders. See the steps that can be taken to enforce child support payments.

Steps to Get Spousal Support
For people in Virginia

How can you get financial support from your ex-spouse?

Step 1: Determine if you can get Spousal Support

Spousal support is money that a court orders a person to pay their spouse. It's also called alimony

You can get spousal support if you are:

  • Divorced from your spouse
  • Married, but living separate and apart from your spouse

Step 2: Court determines possible support amount

The court will then look at how much a spousal support award would be.

They look at factors in Virginia Code § 20-107.1. These factors include:

  • how much income the spouses have
  • the financial needs of the spouses
  • how long the marriage lasted
  • the standard of living during the marriage
  • decisions about employment, education, parenting, economics, and other things made during the marriage

Step 3: Court determines duration of support

The court will also look at how long the spousal support will last. The court will look at similar factors to figure out how long the spousal support will last.

Optional: Possible temporary support

If the spouses dispute the amount of spousal support, then the court might create a temporary order of spousal support. This could be called a "pendente lite" order. The temporary support order will last until the case ends.

Step 4: Modify spousal support order

If there is a 'material' change in the ex-spouses' circumstances, then you can ask the court to modify the support order. This could be like a drop in income or a layoff.

The court will look if the spousal support is 'modifiable' under the law. If it is modifiable, they will determine the new amount.

Video Guides to Divorce & Child Support
Short introductions to Virginia family law

Divorce Video Guide

Watch this short introduction video to learn about Uncontested Divorce in Virginia. It was made by Legal Services of Northern Virginia.

Child Support video guide

Watch this short video from Legal Services of Northern Virginia to understand how child support works in Virginia.

This video guide explains what child support is, and what the Virginia law says about who should pay child support and how much.

FAQs about Divorce, Child Support, and Spousal Support
For people in Virginia

What are the legal reasons you can get divorced in Virginia?

A person seeking to divorce his or her spouse must first have a legal basis for doing so. There is one choice divorcing spouses must make: to go for a No-Fault divorce, or Fault-related divorces.

Option 1: No-Fault Divorces. Most parties in Virginia choose to proceed with a no-fault divorce. 

Other Options: Virginia also allows people to claim that the other party is at fault because of cruelty, adultery, or desertion.  

How do I start a divorce in Virginia?

Divorces are heard in Virginia's Circuit Courts. They begin when one spouse files a Complaint for Divorce.

To file for divorce, one spouse must have lived in Virginia and considered it to be his or her home for six months before the filing.

How long must couples be separated before filing for divorce?

For a no-fault divorce, you must be separated for either six months or one year before filing. It is possible to establish a separation while continuing to live in the same house. But it may be easier to establish the separation if the parties live apart.  

If you do not have children and have a written agreement as to the division of property and payment of spousal support, commonly known as a Property Settlement Agreement or Separation Agreement, one of you can file for divorce after a six-month separation, otherwise the parties must wait a year.  

If you have minor children, you must first be separated for one year before filing for divorce. During this separation period, you may petition the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District (J&DR) Court in your jurisdiction to resolve custody, visitation, child support and spousal support issues.  

Who will decide about custody, payments, and other issues?

You and your spouse can try to come up with an agreement together about issues like:

  • custody and visitation of children,
  • payment of child and spousal, and
  • fair distribution of your property and debts.

If you have disputed issues with your spouse and are unable to resolve them in a written agreement, the Circuit Court has the power the make decisions regarding custody and visitation of the children, payment of child and spousal support and equitable distribution.

Equitable Distribution is intended to be a fair division of marital property and debt.   

Are there DIY divorce options in Virginia?

If you and your spouse have resolved the following issues, then you might be able to go through a Do It Yourself Divorce online form. You should have a written document reflecting your agreement on these matters, or relevant orders from the J&DR court.

This agreement should cover issues like:

  • custody,
  • visitation,
  • child support and spousal support, and
  • the division of your property and debt

If you have this written agreement, you can prepare the court documents you need for a DIY No-Fault Divorce at this link: https://lawhelpinteractive.org/Interview/GenerateInterview/7636/engine

Will a child support court case be held in Virginia if the other spouse doesn't live here?

Even if the individual who will pay support does not live in Virginia, the case can proceed as long at the child lives here. 

What will determine how much child support will be owed?

Both J&DR and DCSE are required to use guidelines developed by the Virginia legislature to establish the support order, although there can be deviations from these guidelines in extraordinary circumstances. 

Support orders are modifiable if either party can demonstrate a material change of circumstances.

How can I get a child support order from Virginia courts?

Virginia J&DR courts may enter a support order after a party files a petition for support. You can schedule an appointment with JDR intake to file a petition: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/courts/jdr/jdrsupport.htm

Ultimately, the judge will enter a support order after a trial. 

It can take a long time to get a trial date in Fairfax JDR, so you may consider requesting temporary child support from the court:   http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/courts/jdr/documents/praecipe-notice.pdf

How can I open a child support enforcement case with DCSE?

You can apply online for help with getting child support at Virginia's DCSE at this portal. Or, go straight to your preferred application:

DCSE is a division of Virginia Department of Social Services responsible for establishing administrative support orders. Their phone number is 1-800-468-8894.

You may file an application with DCSE even if you elect to proceed with a J&DR support case.

When does someone get spousal support?

Spousal support tends to be awarded when there is a significant disparity in the amounts that the spouses are earning and for spouses who have had a long marriage.

This is because spousal support in Virginia is usually intended to be rehabilitative. In other words, it is supposed to help a lower-earning spouse get back on his or her feet after supporting the career of the higher-earning spouse. 

Spousal support can be awarded as part of a contested divorce or in J&DR Court.

How do I start a spousal support case?

You can start a spousal support case in Virginia Juvenile & Domestic Relations district courts by filing a petition. 

Find your local J&DR district court at this page, with links to each local court.

The local J&DR district court can provide you more information about how to file a spousal support petition.

After you file the petition, there will be a trial with the other spouse as the opposing party.

How much spousal support will the court order?

The court will use the Virginia legal guidelines to decide how much financial support to order.

Once the trial is over, the judge may possibly enter a support order. 

The court is required to follow guidelines set up by Spousal Support Statutes, when they decide how to set up support payments.

In some cases, there may be a compelling reason for the court not to follow the guidelines. You can ask the court about this.

How can I get temporary spousal support?

You can file for temporary spousal support with your Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court (J&DR district court).

Find your local J&DR District Court at this Virginia court website.

More Resources on Divorce & Support
To get more help in Virginia

Find the Right Court in Virginia for your family law problem

For divorce cases, you will need to find your local Circuit Court in Virginia.

Find your correct Circuit Court at the Virginia Court website: https://www.vacourts.gov/courts/circuit/home.html

For some child support & spousal support matters, you will need to go to Juvenile & Domestic Relations Courts.

Find your correct J&DR Court at this Virginia Court website: https://www.vacourts.gov/courts/jdr/home.html

Read more on Divorce, Child Support, and Spousal Support in Virginia

Find more online guides & services

These Virginia websites offer free guidance to understand your options & navigate the divorce process.

If you are in Fairfax County, Virginia

Find specific information for getting a divorce in Fairfax County:

Get More Help

with your legal situation

Find a Private Lawyer: To connect with a private lawyer, call Virginia Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-552-7977 or go to their website at https://vlrs.community.lawyer/. Some lawyers charge $35.00 for an initial interview. 

Contact Legal Aid: You can call the Virginia Legal Aid Hotline 1-866-LEGLAID (1-866-534-5243). This will help you find your local free legal aid group.

If you are in Northern Virginia, seek help from the legal aid group Legal Services of Northern Virginia, visit https://www.lsnv.org or call (703) 778-6800.

If you are not in Northern Virginia, or need to find other groups, you can find a list of Virginia legal aid and help groups here, for more legal and financial assistance.

The information on this page is not legal advice.

Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of a person's situation. The information on this page cannot replace the advice of competent, local legal counsel.

Before taking action based on the information on this site, first check for up-to-date information with your local court system, and seek the advice of licensed local attorneys in Virginia (or your state).

This platform is not a substitute for qualified legal advice.

Please contact a lawyer in Virginia to help you with your specific situation. You can find a private lawyer by calling 1-800-552-7977 or find a local legal aid group by calling 1-866-LEGLAID (1-866-534-5243).

Family legal problem guides

Do you have issues with divorce, child custody, support, separation, or domestic violence? These guides can help.

Protective Orders

Are you facing physical or emotional abuse by someone you know? Are you dealing with workplace harassment or other threats?

Find what options you have to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Custody & Visitation

Are you trying to establish who can visit your children, and where they live? And who can make decisions about their schooling, finances, and other life choices?

Use this guide to understand your options around custody and visitation in Virginia.