True or false (it’s okay — you’re not sworn in): Electronic ankle bracelets were inspired by a Spider Man comic. That is true, says CBR.com1. Judge Jack Love read a Spider Man comic strip about a villain tracking Spidey with such a bracelet and asked computer salesman Michael T. Goss to make it. In 1983, the ankle monitor was born. After you file for divorce in Virginia, you may feel you have a phantom ankle monitor on — can you leave the state?
Listen Closely: Stay Put
In order to file for either an uncontested divorce or contested divorce, you need to be living in Virginia at least six months. You file for divorce in the court with jurisdiction for your county or major metropolitan area. You also have to show intent to make Virginia your permanent residence. This is spelled out in our beloved Code of Virginia, § 20-97, with the catchy section title, “Domicile and residential requirements for suits for annulment, affirmance, or divorce.” Honestly, have you ever read such breathtaking prose? Hmm … Anyway, as the good ol’ Code says,
“No suit for annulling a marriage or for divorce shall be maintainable, unless one of the parties was at the time of the filing of the suit and had been for at least six months preceding the filing of the suit an actual bona fide resident and domiciliary of this Commonwealth …”
This is a happy coincidence, because the time needed for separation before filing for divorce is either six months (with no children) or a year (with children), according to the Code, § 20-91.
So, theoretically at least, your wished-to-be-ex-wife could continue living in, say, lovely Bayonne, New Jersey and you could move to Virginia on January 1. Then, on July 1 (exactly six months later), you could file for an uncontested divorce because you have a) lived in Virginia six months and b) been separated from your wife for six months.
Those who advocate for do-it-yourself divorce would be wise to stop advocating, once they take a look at a map of Virginia’s court system. Let professional lawyers handle your case, if only because they know where the courthouses are.
Virginia jurisdiction can be tricky, since you normally have to file in the Circuit Court with jurisdiction over your residency address. Your wife need not be living with you, nor does she need to be in the state, but you have to know the proper Circuit Court, out of the 122 courts in the state, for your divorce filing. (Code of Virginia, § 20-96 and § 20-97.)
Jurisdiction becomes even trickier if you have children, since child custody, visitation and child support is handled in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court within the Virginia Circuit Court’s jurisdiction. Leave these filings to your attorney and you need not fret over finding the right address.
Once your suit for divorce is filed, you can (literally) get on with your life.
So You’re Moving Anyway
Nothing in the Code requires you to stay in Virginia after you file for divorce. You have to stay in touch with your divorce lawyer, and be available for court appearances, depositions, investigations, and such. You may not want to resettle on the opposite coast right away, because the expense of flying back to meet court appointments will be completely on you. You cannot generally use travel or distance as an excuse to get out of a court appearance.
If you have no children you can accept a job and relocate to anywhere in the U.S. If you and your attorney think you can make such a long-distance relationship work for the time needed to complete the divorce, nothing in Virginia law creates a metaphorical ankle monitor.
What if There Are Children Involved?
If you have children, you probably should consider sticking around the Old Dominion for the duration. If you wish to have visitation rights after your divorce is final, you have to demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that you have — and desire to maintain — strong bonds to your kids. You cannot do that very well if you have chosen to relocate from Virginia Beach to Nooksack, Washington.
If you remain in Virginia while separated and awaiting the final divorce decree, you show an intent to keep the strong father-child relationships alive. As part of the divorce suit, you, your wife, and both your lawyers will work out child support, visitation and custody. Being in the state makes that process easier and more likely to be fair to you.
Not everyone, has a choice in being relocated. Of course, we are referring specifically to military service personnel.
What if You’re Military and Have to Relocate?
You may have no choice but to relocate. The Code of Virginia recognizes the obligations our military service members have, and protects them with special carve-outs in the law. Code of Virginia § 20-97 allows members of the armed forces to file after six months of being stationed in the state, or bunking on a ship with a Virginia home port. More, any member of the armed forces, a civilian employee of the United States, or a Foreign Service officer who was in Virginia for six months but has been shipped to a territory or foreign country immediately before the suit for divorce was filed, is also recognized to be a Virginia resident.
Call The Firm Representing Men Exclusively
The best way to know whether you should stay or go is to confide in your attorney. Discuss your desires to relocate and see what is realistic, legal and sensible. By calling The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, you can reach family law attorneys with advice especially tailored to your situation. No matter where you are, we can help. Contact us online or by telephone today.