Where can I file for divorce?

Posted on Feb 24, 2023 by Katie Carter

There’s no limit to the number of things that can happen to a woman between the time she decides to marry and the time she decides to divorce. Though, in many ways, things can get pretty complicated, for the sake of this article, I’ll try to keep things simple.

Where can I file for divorce?

It’s kind of a complicated question, and there might be any number of reasons that someone would want to file somewhere that they don’t live. Maybe the person in question is a military spouse, and they happen to know that the state in which they are currently stationed is not favorable for military spouses. Maybe they’re from another state, and they hope to be able to move back to that state. Maybe they feel concerned that their spouse is connected with judges and attorneys in their area, and they want to get away from that sphere of influence. Of course, these reasons only scratch the surface. There’s a million different reasons.

But the short answer is that the appropriate place to file is where you and your husband last lived together as husband and wife. It can get trickier than that, but I don’t want to go into all the potential jurisdictional issues; that’s your attorney’s problem, anyway. My point, today, is to try to point you in the right direction so you know where (and, ultimately, with whom) to schedule an initial consultation.
You won’t feel well served if you have a consultation with someone who ultimately can’t represent you, and who has very little information about the divorce process in another state where you’ll eventually have to file anyway.

So, if you lived in Virginia, and then moved together to North Carolina, I am sorry to say that now you have to file in North Carolina. If you lived in Virginia but he’s military and he PCS’d to, say, Texas – but you didn’t go with him – the divorce would be in Virginia.

If we last lived together in Virginia, can I file in a different city or county from where I live now?

Just because you live in Virginia Beach, does that mean you have to file for divorce in Virginia Beach? What if you’d rather file in, say, Norfolk, because you heard that their policies are friendlier? (It’s true; they are.)

Technically speaking, any court in the Commonwealth can give you a divorce, so, theoretically at least, you can file anywhere. But, if where you file isn’t where you lived, or it creates a hardship for the other party and they object, you could find your case transferred to a different court.

In general, I find that most courts are willing to accept filings from different cities or counties on an uncontested basis. For a contested case, you’re more likely to have to file in the same city or county where you last lived. (It’s a question of judicial resources; no one wants to waste a ton of judicial time on a case with parties who aren’t even from that city.)

Even if the court accepts your filing, it could transfer it – on its own, or because of a motion made by the other party. If, say, you last lived together as husband and wife in Virginia Beach, but you moved to Roanoke and filed in Roanoke, your husband would be the defendant, and he’d be in a reasonable position to object to the venue being Roanoke.

Generally speaking, the court is more concerned with the venue being convenient for the defendant. Because the plaintiff brought the suit, due process (you know – one of those pesky Constitutionally-guaranteed rights) requires that the defendant be able to respond to it. The venue could be seen as a disadvantage and a threat to his basic rights.

But what about my rights? I live far from where we last lived as husband and wife.

If your ex agrees, it’s possible to have the case heard in Roanoke – again, especially if your case is uncontested.

If it’s contested, though, you’ll likely have to make it work. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. Fortunately, though, even in a pretty hotly contested case, there are only a few instances where you’d need to actually be physically at the courthouse. And, even then, in some cases it is possible to appear telephonically or via Zoom.

A lot of times, too, we settle before trial, so it may be that you don’t ever have to appear at all.

It’s nerve wracking to imagine any kind of case in any court anywhere, and it’s even worse to imagine that it might take place at a great distance from where you live – or where you’d prefer to be, or where you feel the laws might be applied more kindly.

The best advice I can give you is to talk to a licensed, experienced attorney who handles family law in the state (or, in our case, the Commonwealth) where you’re most likely to have to appear. Get more information about the legal process and your rights and entitlements.

If you’re finding that your case will be heard in Virginia, consider attending our monthly divorce seminar for Virginia women, or requesting a copy of one of our books on divorce or custody. For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to talk to one of our client intake specialists, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.