Generally speaking, you file for divorce in the city where you and your husband last lived together as husband and wife. Though technically any court in Virginia can grant your divorce, you may find that this court (the one in the city where you last lived as husband and wife) is the most helpful to you. Other courts will sometimes refuse to accept divorces (particularly contested ones) from people who don’t live in their jurisdiction; in other cases, even if the court itself allows you to file there, your husband may contest the venue.
People want to file in different cities for all different reasons—because somewhere else is more convenient to where they live now, because they’re hoping to “shop” for a particular judge, or any number of other reasons.
If you last lived in Hampton as husband and wife, chances are good that your divorce will be granted in Hampton. Whether you prefer to file somewhere else or whether your husband is trying to switch things up on you, it may prove to be a little tricky.
I’d prefer to file for divorce somewhere else. Is that possible?
Yes, it’s possible. A lot of times, particularly with uncontested divorces, courts are prone to be flexible. Why? Well, most courts have a filing fee for a divorce case that is somewhere between $80-90. It may not seem like much to you, but it’s a draw, especially in a case that’s going to be easily resolved.
In a contested case, on the other hand, where a number of hearings may be necessary, and where property (that is not located in the jurisdiction) needs to be divided, courts are less likely to accept these cases Contestedwhen they’re already out of their proper jurisdiction. The number of man hours necessary to resolve one of these cases can be substantial, making the filing fee an insufficient enticement.
What’s the difference between a contested and an uncontested case?
A contested case is one where you can’t reach an agreement ahead of time about how all of the assets and liabilities of the marriage will be divided. In a contested case, rather than dividing everything in an agreement that you both are willing to sign, you have to litigate. You present evidence, question and cross examine witnesses, and make arguments in court to a judge, who decides how everything will be divided.
Going to court is expensive because, procedurally, there are so many steps involved. It’s not just as simple as filing for divorce and scheduling a trial. Though the specific steps you’ll have to take depend on the court (and every court has local rules that differ slightly from other courts, even ones that are nearby), there are often a number of procedural roadblocks in place to encourage you to reach a settlement before your trial. You may have to attend mediation or a settlement conference, provide pretrial briefs, draft proffers, or even more, depending on your jurisdiction, before you even get to your trial date.
It’s not just to be difficult; courts have dockets that are so backed up, they can’t help but encourage settlement. It removes cases from their dockets and, besides that, generally speaking, people who reach an agreement about how to handle their divorce on their own are happier with the results.
As you can tell, there are a lot of steps in a contested divorce, and the filing fee just isn’t enough for most out-of-jurisdiction courts to be inclined to take on an extra contested case. Even if the court were willing to take it, it’s pretty likely that the opposing party would object.
In a contested case, on the other hand, you can reach an agreement ahead of time. Instead of going to court to let the judge decide how everything will be divided, in an uncontested case, the parties decide themselves. So, instead of having a bunch of procedural steps designed to encourage settlement, they can skip all that and move straight to the uncontested divorce.
An uncontested divorce is mostly a matter of filing the appropriate paperwork, getting it reviewed by the clerks in the judge’s office, and having an uncontested divorce granted. It’s relatively uncomplicated, so there’s less at stake if another court gets involved. Since the parties have already decided for themselves, it’s not such a big deal allowing the case to move forward, even if the jurisdiction isn’t the one where husband and wife last lived together.
My husband is trying to file somewhere else. What can I do to stop him?
If your husband has already filed for divorce, the clock is ticking! From the day that you’re served with your husband’s divorce complaint, you have 21 days to respond. If he has filed somewhere other than where you last lived as husband and wife, you’ll want to object. It’s a relatively easy thing to do, but you’ll probably want to talk to an attorney to help you prepare a motion to have the case transferred to a more appropriate venue.
If you’re the one who moved away and the last place you lived as husband and wife is no longer convenient for you, there may be very little you can do. The court won’t move the case just because it’s more convenient; the court is mostly concerned with where the more appropriate venue is. If it has jurisdiction, even if you now live somewhere far away, you may be forced to face your case from a distance.
Is that a big deal? In most cases, no. Most of the time, we can negotiate everything from a distance. We’ve handled many, many cases where our clients lived in different states, or even different countries, without a problem. In a divorce, particularly if your divorce is uncontested, it’s very possible that you’ll never even have to appear in court. If your divorce is contested, you may have to appear, especially at the final divorce trial. Still, sometimes, when it comes to lesser court appearances, it may be possible, depending on your case, to appear via phone or Skype, or not at all. Sometimes, attorneys can make appearances on behalf of their clients. It really all depends on your case, including what’s at stake and what the issues are.
You’ll want to talk to an attorney from the jurisdiction where the case has been filed, though, to help figure out what your next steps should be and what your options are.
I’m facing a divorce in Hampton. What should I do?
It’s always a good idea to talk to an attorney who is experienced in handling cases in your jurisdiction. Though most attorneys handle cases in several different jurisdictions (like a Hampton attorney would likely also handle cases in Newport News, York County, and Williamsburg), you’ll want someone who has been in the Hampton courts regularly and who is familiar with the local rules and the other attorneys and judges.
In our office, Shannon Lemm handles divorce cases in Hampton. She’s super experienced in the Hampton courts and is an effective and passionate advocate on behalf of her clients.
Need more information about divorce? Feel free to check out one of our monthly divorce seminars. We offer seminars in Newport News which discuss the divorce process on the Peninsula, including Hampton, on the Second Saturday of each month. For more information on the topics covered and what to expect, click here. Each seminar is taught by one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, and we do take (general!) questions from the audience. It’s a great way to learn about Virginia law and get an idea of what your first steps should be.
For more information about us, our monthly divorce seminars, or to schedule a consultation with Shannon, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.
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