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How to Find a Divorce Record in Virginia
The action of two people who are married deciding to reverse that decision is called divorce, which is also known as dissolution of marriage. This process begins when one party in a marriage serves divorce papers against the other or both parties choose to file divorce papers in Virginia. The Circuit Court Clerk records divorces, and these files are moved to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Division of Vital Records after 25 years. The circuit courts in Virginia can also be referred to as "divorce courts" as they have primary jurisdiction over divorce cases in the state. When a divorce happens, the state courts record it in three different forms (divorce records, divorce decree, and divorce certificate), and all three serve different purposes. It is important to recognize the differences between these records to save time when attempting to access them. These three records make up the dissolution of marriage records.
Divorce records are considered court records. They may therefore be searched on third-party public record websites. Divorce records can offer personal information on minors, finances, and sensitive criminal information like domestic abuse. Because of this, divorce record, certificate, and decree availability is usually much lower than other types of public records because of the personal nature of divorces. Simply put, divorce records are significantly harder to obtain and search for than other types of public records.
What is a Divorce Certificate in Virginia?
A divorce certificate is generally only made available to the parties who have gotten divorced, and the lawyers that were involved in the case. Divorce certificates serve the purpose of proving a divorce has occurred, so that either of the persons involved in the divorce can obtain marriage certificates to get remarried or change their name. This type of record holds very basic information, including the names of the parties, along with the date and location of the divorce. It is the most frequently solicited of the three forms. Other types of divorce records are used to store more important information, such as the divorce agreement. Furthermore, a divorce certificate can only be created after divorce papers have been served, filed, and approved by a divorce court.
What is a Divorce Decree in Virginia?
A divorce decree is often made more widely available to members of the public. In Virginia, it is available to residents of the state as long as a request form and fee are provided. State residents may opt to obtain a divorce decree online through the VDH online application form or in person at a local health department. A divorce decree holds general information, but also includes final judgements and agreements pertaining to the terms of a divorce. These agreements typically include allotment of property and alimony payments. If children are involved, the divorce decree also lists information regarding custody arrangements and child support. This record is signed by the presiding judge and given a case number. It is most often requested by the two parties involved when they wish to alter the listed agreements in some way. Besides a divorce decree, the divorce petition may also contain details of divorce agreements. The grounds for the divorce and the divorce summons are detailed in the divorce papers.
What are Virginia Divorce Records?
A Virginia Divorce Record contains the most detailed information out of the three marriage dissolution records. Along with all of the information held within divorce papers, divorce certificates, and divorce decrees, divorce records also hold every document, file, and transcript generated from the divorce proceedings. Essentially, a divorce record is the case file for a divorce; it holds all the divorce documents. Like divorce decrees, these documents can be requested and obtained by residents of Virginia with the proper request form and fees, which vary from county to county. Often, these files are required when one of the divorced parties wishes to alter the agreements.
Which Court Handles Divorce Cases in Virginia?
In Virginia, divorce falls under the purview of Family law, which is handled by the Virginia Circuit Courts. Circuit court is the highest trial court that handles civil cases with claims of between $4,500 and $25,000. Circuit courts handle criminal and civil cases, from felonies to divorce cases. Virginia possesses 120 courts divided amid 31 judicial circuits. Take a look at the Circuit Courts Informational Pamphlet supplied by the Virginia Courts website for more information.
The Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over cases that involve:
- Monetary disputes not more than $25,000
- Divorce cases
- Property disagreements
- Adoption proceedings
- Trusts, wills and other estate cases
Getting a Divorce in Virginia
To be eligible to get a divorce in Virginia, one of the married parties must have been a resident of Virginia for six months at least before filing. Unlike many other states, in Virginia a divorce can either be “fault” or “no-fault”. A "fault" divorce is one in which one of the parties to a marriage serves the other with divorce papers for a specific reason (fault-based grounds). The grounds for filing for divorce are few, but they include adultery, a felony conviction and incarceration, and abandonment. These grounds need to be proved beyond doubt, which can prove difficult. A "no-fault" divorce, commonly referred to as an "uncontested divorce," is one in which both parties consent to the divorce without placing blame on the other. An uncontested divorce is the least expensive of the two types of divorce in Virginia. To get a “no fault” divorce, it is necessary to have been separated for one year before filing. Without minor children, it is only necessary to have been separated for 6 months. Parties always have the right to refuse hiring an attorney, but they will be responsible for representing their own case. As divorce cases can be very complicated, it is suggested that both parties hire an attorney to represent them. When a party decides to waive their right to an attorney during their divorce proceedings, this is known as Pro Se Divorce. The Virginia Commonwealth worked together with the Fairfax Bar Association to provide a guide for filing for divorce without a lawyer.
Are Virginia Divorce Records Public Records?
Virginia Freedom of Information act (FOIA) § 2.2-3700 and Virginia Public Records Act § 42.1-76 assures that divorce records are to be made available for residents of Virginia, although there is a chance that specific sensitive information on these records may be redacted or the records could be sealed in their entirety. There are two bodies that hold and maintain Virginia divorce records: The Office of Vital Records of the VDH and the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in the courthouse where the divorce case was heard and finalized. Only the involved parties can access divorce records from Vital Records, as these contain more detailed information and judgments than certified copies from the court clerk’s office. After 25 years, records which are held in the Vital Records Office are considered to be public.
Find Public Divorce Records Online
Interested persons can search divorce records in Virginia online through the website of the Virginia Judicial System, interested parties can find general case information pertaining to circuit court cases. The website lists every circuit court in Virginia besides two: the Alexandria and Fairfax circuit courts. Find the Virginia Courts Case Information webpage and determine which county court the case took place in by using the dropdown menu. It then asks the requesting party to provide the name of one of the parties involved in the divorce, the case number associated with it, and the date of the hearing.
How to Obtain Virginia Family Court Records
Divorce documents for Divorces that have been finalized in the last 25 years are available at the Circuit Court Clerk's office in the county where the divorce was heard and completed. The Virginia Judicial System website provides a list of all the counties and links to their circuit court’s website homepage where the contact information is made available. It may also be possible to visit the circuit court website and find an online portal to access divorce records, but this is not always available. There are several other ways to search divorce records in Virginia. It should always be possible to submit requests for divorce records by mail or in-person, if the correct request forms and fees are included. Fees vary depending on the county, and all county clerk’s offices charge different prices for certified and uncertified copies of divorce records.
Divorce cases finalized over 25 years ago are available through the Virginia Department of Health Division of Vital Records. Call them by phone at (804) 662-6200 or visit the Virginia Division of Vital Records at
2001 Maywill Street,
Richmond, VA 23230
Government public record search portals and third party public record websites both may provide court records search tools, which can help find divorce records, though record availability usually varies widely. Divorce records in particular may simply not be available through either source.
Can Virginia Divorce Records Be Sealed?
In order to seal a Virginia divorce record, the state requires that both parties involved agree to this and produce sufficient reason for doing so. If the judge agrees that there is a possibility that leaving certain details open to the public could cause harm to individuals, then they may agree to seal them for privacy reasons. It is likely that divorce records that include details about the identities of minors or private financial information will be partly redacted or completely sealed if both parties agree. In cases that state any information regarding domestic violence, abuse, mental illness, or addiction, the parties may also request the sealing of divorce records.
Does Virginia Recognize Common-Law Marriage?
Virginia recognizes common-law marriages formed in another state as long as the union complies with the legal requirements of the originating state. Common law marriages are arrangements in which a couple who live together parade themselves as married with no formal ceremony or license. In some states in the US, a couple can get marital rights on the basis of cohabitation over a protracted period. However, Virginia does not recognize such an arrangement as a marriage. No marital rights or responsibilities are conferred on the couple in Virginia. It also follows that such arrangements are not recognized in Virginia. A couple seeking to end such a relationship does not need legal action (like marriage dissolution) if the relationship was formed in Virginia.
How to Get a Divorce in Virginia
The preparation of divorce papers is the first step in obtaining a divorce in Virginia. According to the state's Access to Justice Commission, there are no formal divorce papers in Virginia. Therefore, the parties to a marriage are required to individually draft their divorce papers, ideally with legal counsel.
A complaint and summons are often included in divorce papers in Virginia. The grounds and terms of the divorce would be specified in the complaint. The divorce terms provisions would outline what the party filing the divorce is asking for, including things like child custody, spousal support, and child support, among other things. The summons informs the party who receives it that they have 21 days to file a response to the complaint with the court.
Following that, the original divorce papers must be filed with a Virginia circuit court. After that, the filing party would need to serve their spouse copies of the divorce papers. Any disagreements over the terms outlined in the original divorce papers are often addressed before the circuit court judge. When no grounds for divorce are specified, these cases may be tried in a juvenile and domestic relations district court separately from the divorce lawsuit. For further information, the Virginia State Bar provides a brochure on divorce in Virginia.