What does a Virginia divorce lawyer do?

Posted on Jun 30, 2017 by Katie Carter

What does a Virginia divorce lawyer do?  It’s a question we get all the time, and one it feels like we’re constantly answering.  Do you take this type of case?  Or this?  What about this one?  It seems like, when it comes to what exactly a family law attorney does, a lot of people are really confused.What does a Virginia divorce lawyer do?  It’s a question we get all the time, and one it feels like we’re constantly answering.  Do you take this type of case?  Or this?  What about this one?  It seems like, when it comes to what exactly a family law attorney does, a lot of people are really confused.That’s fine.  In fact, more than fine, because I’m here today to clear up the confusion and let you in on a little inside information.

A Virginia divorce lawyer actually does pretty specific types of things; there are many things that fall within the scope of the types of cases we take, and other things that don’t.  I’ll go into a little more detail about the types of cases we take and the types of cases we don’t, so that you can see where you fall along the line. For the most part, of course, a Virginia divorce lawyer takes divorce, custody, and support cases.  But divorce and custody cases can take a number of different forms.

Types of Cases We Take


Obviously, we handle divorces!  In fact, probably most of what we do is divorce-related.

Separation Agreement

Ultimately, most divorces are uncontested, meaning that, instead of going to court, we negotiate a signed separation agreement between the parties.   You don’t have to involve an attorney to get a separation agreement in place, but many (probably most) women choose to anyway.  There’s a lot at stake when it comes to drafting a separation agreement, and it’s hard to know what you don’t know.  (For more information on drafting your own, click here.) If you work with an attorney, there are a couple of ways you can get a separation agreement in place.  You can hire one to negotiate an agreement for you or, alternatively, you can hire one to participate in the collaborative process with you.  (For more information on collaboration, click here.) Other women choose to mediate (for more information on the advantages and disadvantages of mediation, click here) or do it themselves.

Still, a lot of what we do is writing awesome agreements for our clients that are designed to protect them—both now and in the future.

Contested Divorce

When people can’t reach an agreement on their own, we also take divorces to court and let the judge decide how the couple’s assets and liabilities should be divided.


We handle lots of custody cases, too—but they can come in lots of sizes and shapes.

Initial Determination

An initial determination is when you go in, for the first time, to the juvenile court to have custody, child support, and visitation determined.

As part of a divorce

Custody can also come up as the biggest issue in an ongoing divorce case; in fact, that happens all the time.  If you’ve filed for custody, visitation, or child support at the juvenile court level, and then either you or your husband files for divorce in the circuit court, the juvenile court will be divested of jurisdiction.  You’ll have to continue litigating in the circuit court.  The circuit court can handle any of the issues relating to custody and visitation, but, usually (or, at least, when a divorce isn’t pending), it’s the juvenile court that handles these issues.


Anything relating to custody, visitation, and support is always modifiable based on a material change in circumstances so, once your custody order has been entered, you’re not completely out of the woods.  (In fact, you’re not completely out of the woods until your child is 18!)  You may have to go back and forth to court a number of times to determine custody, visitation, and child support over again.  We call this a modification, and we handle those, too!

Grandparent/Non Parent Rights

It’s not always just biological parents who want time with the child!  Sometimes, grandparents or non parents want to petition for custody or visitation, too.  Though we can’t represent any dads (or granddads or stepdads), we can represent grandmas, aunts, or other women friends who want to petition the court for time with a minor child.  These cases are difficult (for more information on custody for non parents, click here), but we handle them.


Child Support and Spousal Support

Both child and spousal support can be determined at the juvenile court level, along with custody and visitation (or, if you don’t have children, independently of custody and visitation) or, alternatively, along with a divorce case at the circuit court level.  Either way, we handle that!


When things go wrong, we handle that, too.  It isn’t all that often, but occasionally we have to handle an appeal.   The most common type of appeal we take is when a custody ruling from the juvenile court is appealed to the circuit court.  At that level, you have an automatic appeal right, and you get a brand new trial de novo, so that none of the evidence from the lower court comes up with you.  Lots of people choose to take advantage of that appeal, and we often get those types of cases. Less frequently, a case is appealed past the circuit court to the Appeals Court of Virginia, and, even less frequently than that, to the Virginia Supreme Court.  These aren’t automatic appeals; in the case of the appeals court, you’ll only have the right to appeal if there’s a mistake of law (not of fact) in your case.  At the Supreme Court level, like the United States Supreme Court, you’ll have to be granted an appeal.

Post Divorce Issues

Issues can come up after divorce, too.  Whether there’s a problem with your agreement, or you need help enforcing it because your ex-husband just won’t comply, we handle that, too.

Types of Cases We DON’T Take

When Virginia doesn’t have jurisdiction or where there’s no hope of success

The types of cases we don’t take don’t fall into such easy to define categories.  A lot of times, the cases we don’t take are ones where Virginia doesn’t have jurisdiction, or where we’re not comfortable, for one reason or another, taking the case forward.  A good example of this would be a case where a woman signed an agreement and wanted to contest it later on.  So few of those cases are successful, and under such limited circumstances, that we really aren’t all that comfortable taking a woman’s money to try to argue something—and almost certainly lose.  (Side note: You should definitely be careful signing an agreement—for more information, click here.)


Annulment is another type of case that we really don’t take, and not because it doesn’t fall under the family law heading.  Annulment is almost certainly something that we would handle—if it were possible.  Unfortunately, though, it almost never is.  Even though we get a lot of questions about annulment, we never really do annulments.  In fact, in all my years of practice, I haven’t done a single one.  I think we have one current annulment case open in our office right now, but in all likelihood it’ll turn into a divorce.  Annulments just really don’t happen in Virginia.