In 1784, you could have married in the State of Franklin and by 1789 seen that state disappear. As the Smithsonian magazine explains1, the short-lived, eight-county state rebelled from North Carolina and wrote its own constitution before later returning to the Tar Heel State. If in 1790 you had wanted to divorce your State of Franklin wife, what could you have done? The answer then and now is the same: file for divorce where you live.
What Exactly is Jurisdiction?
The word “jurisdiction” comes to us from two Latin words meaning “saying the law,” and every state wants a say in its own laws. While the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land (sorry, State of Franklin), every state has its own constitution and claims its own right to enforce law, including matrimonial and divorce law, as it sees fit.
In Virginia, as in every other state, divorce is a residency requirement, not a function of your marriage ceremony. Consider all the couples who marry with Elvis in Las Vegas. When they find their Burnin’ Love burnt to a crisp, they do not fly back to Vegas for an Elvis impersonator divorce.
Resident and Domiciliary
Lawyers and legislators may seem to like fancy-pants words, but what they are really doing is using those pants to cover their … assets and liabilities. That’s why Code of Virginia spells out requirements for divorce using not one but two terms.
You can file for divorce in the state if you are:
- A resident, a person coming into Virginia with intention to establish her or his domicile or permanent residence, and who in consequence actually remains there
- A domiciliary, a person who is domiciled in a particular jurisdiction
Code of Virginia § 20-97 reads,
“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 the Commonwealth…”
No part of Virginia Code, in fact, says anything about traveling back to Las Vegas, Nevada or Gatlinburg, Tennessee (America’s #2 spot for weddings!) to unseal the deal.
Military Servicemembers & Jurisdiction
Unfortunately, too many of our nation’s members of the uniformed services are confused by family law in the Commonwealth. That same section of Virginia Code, § 20-97, goes out of its way to accommodate military men seeking divorce.
If you are billeted or stationed in Virginia for six months before you file for divorce, you are considered a Virginia resident.
If you serve on board a ship out of Norfolk, you meet residency and domicile requirements. A six-month stint does the trick, even if those entire six months were spent aboard a Second Fleet ship serving in the Arctic Ocean. Norfolk is your legal domicile under the Code.
And here is the added benefit for military members (and civilians in foreign service): if you chalked up the six-month residency requirement and are then transferred to a new base, your Virginia residency remains intact:
“Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States or any civilian employee of the United States, including any foreign service officer, who (i) at the time the suit is filed is, or immediately preceding such suit was, stationed in any territory or foreign country and (ii) was domiciled in the Commonwealth for the six-month period immediately preceding his being stationed in such territory or country shall be deemed to have been domiciled in and to have been a bona fide resident of the Commonwealth during the six months preceding the filing of a suit for annulment or divorce.”
The great state of Virginia acknowledges you did not transfer from, say, a Second Fleet ship to the Fifth Fleet out of Bahrain on a whim; you were ordered to go, so your six-month service out of Norfolk preserves your status as a Virginian and maintains Virginia’s jurisdiction.
Hire a Skilled Family Law Attorney for Men
Whether a military man or a regular resident, you as a Virginia man can feel comfortable meeting with a qualified family law attorney in Virginia to arrange a separation and divorce from your wife. It does not matter if an Elvis impersonator or Adele officiated, a Virginia attorney and court can sunder the union.
Your friendly, local Virginia lawyer will walk you through not only the residency requirements but the waiting period for a no-fault, uncontested divorce:
- Six months’ separation if you have no children
- Twelve months’ separation if you have children
Your attorney will file the Divorce Complaint in the correct Circuit Court’s Civil Intake Division. You have only to talk with your attorney, sign some papers, and pay the fees. The Firm For Men is an excellent resource for Virginia’s men seeking divorce. Contact us today or call our offices to get proceedings started. (No Elvis impersonators on staff.)