Overview of Contested Divorce in Virginia

A contested divorce occurs when couples cannot agree on the terms of their separation and turn to the court for resolution. This legal process is essential for individuals at an impasse in negotiations with their spouses, mainly when disagreements arise over issues like child custody, the division of marital assets, and other significant matters.

To safeguard your rights and your best interests in a contested divorce, it’s crucial to grasp the process. Get familiar with the procedures and requirements to navigate the legal system effectively.


What Is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce involves parties who cannot agree on the grounds for divorce or any significant aspect of the divorce. This process is akin to a court proceeding, where each party presents their arguments, and a judge decides based on those arguments.

During this process, a judge may need to decide on various matters, including child custody, child and spousal support, custody and visitation, property settlement agreement, and other related issues. Legal representation from an attorney experienced in divorce and family law is crucial for protecting your rights and interests throughout this complex process.

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take?

The length of a contested divorce can vary significantly depending on the complexity and contentious nature of the case. On average, it takes about six months to a year and a half to finalize a contested divorce in Virginia. However, it can take longer if the parties involved cannot agree on important issues, leading to multiple court hearings and additional legal procedures.

The timeline is subject to factors such as:

  • The court’s schedules 

  • The judge’s decision-making time

  • The time taken for both parties to concede to terms 

  • The judge involved. 

non-contested divorce generally takes less time than a contested dissolution of marriage despite its complexities. While an uncontested divorce may conclude within three months, a contested divorce by the state of Virginia generally takes around 18 months to finalize.

How Much Does a Contested Divorce Cost?

Determining the exact cost of a contested divorce is a complex task. Every divorce case is unique and influenced by various variables. When estimating the expenses of a contested divorce in Virginia, several factors come into play. These factors include:

  • The number of hearings that take place

  • The amount of evidence needed

  • The specific grounds for filing for divorce

  • Whether minor children are involved in the divorce case or not.

While an estimate places the cost of a contested divorce in Virginia between $12,000 and $28,000, the actual cost depends on the case’s specific circumstances.

Grounds for Contested Divorce in Virginia


In Virginia, there are different legal grounds for a contested divorce. These grounds cover a range of reasons that can be cited to justify ending a marriage through a fault-based divorce. These grounds include:



Adultery refers to a married individual engaging in a sexual relationship with someone other than their spouse. To establish adultery, the accusing spouse must present compelling and irrefutable evidence of the extramarital affair.


Desertion or Abandonment

Desertion occurs when a spouse leaves the marriage without intending to return and may be grounds for divorce. This can happen when a spouse physically leaves the marital home or effectively abandons the marriage.

In order to prove desertion, the spouse must demonstrate that the other spouse has been absent for one year or more with no intention of reconciling. There must also be proof of the filing spouse’s faultlessness.


Criminal Conviction

In Virginia, if one spouse is convicted of a felony and receives a prison sentence longer than one year, their partner has the option to file for divorce based on the conviction. This situation is considered a fault-based ground for divorce, meaning that the conviction serves as a valid reason for ending the marriage.



In Virginia divorce proceedings, cruelty is considered a valid reason for divorce. In order to prove cruelty, either spouse must demonstrate that the other has physically or mentally abused them, putting them in danger. This ensures the safety and well-being of the individuals seeking to end their marriage.

How Is Child Custody Determined in a Contested Divorce?

In a divorce, both spouses must agree on various aspects of the divorce, particularly child custody. This involves agreeing on physical custody arrangements, legal custody, visitation rights, a shared custody schedule, and child support payments.

If spouses cannot find common ground on any issue, mediation or arbitration can help resolve differences. If an agreement is reached through these methods, the contested divorce can still proceed. Otherwise, presenting the case to a judge becomes necessary.

The Virginia Code § 20-124.3 lays out factors that judges must consider when reviewing and deciding parenting time plans for kids. These factors cover the child’s age, well-being (both physical and mental), and the parent-child relationship. The court also looks at the child’s needs, essential relationships, and the parent’s ability to support and maintain a relationship with the child. They also consider the child’s preference, whether there is a history of abuse, and other relevant factors. This is also applicable to a no-fault divorce process.

It is important to note that if there is an existing court order regarding custody, visitation, or child support, the court will only consider modifying that order if there has been a “material change of circumstances” since the last order was issued. In cases involving custody or visitation, the court places the utmost importance on the child’s best interest. Therefore, if sufficient evidence exists, the court may order a change that aligns with the child’s best interest. 

Do I Need an Attorney for a Contested Divorce in Virginia?

Contested divorces are complex and lengthy, with decisions that can have a lasting impact. Getting help from experienced Virginia divorce attorneys is an excellent idea. By having a skilled legal professional, you can get valuable advice, protect your rights and interests, and navigate the intricate legal procedures of a contested divorce until the final divorce hearing.

Professional Attorneys for Your Virginia-Contested Divorce Process


At Ashwell & Ashwell, PLLC, our talented lawyers in Warrenton, VA, have extensive experience handling contested divorces. We’re committed to working closely with our clients to achieve the best possible outcomes for their unique situations. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation and get the legal guidance you need during this challenging time.


Contact Ashwell & Ashwell, PLLC Offices Today!

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