We were at a kids’ birthday party the other day, and the parents had thoughtfully booked local magician, Rob Westcott1. Rob is not only a great entertainer but also a holder of a JD (law) degree. He has a rabbit, Prince Charming, whose primary job is to emerge at the right time from a top hat. Prince Charming has never once been found guilty of a common legal infraction: failure to appear. Could you be found guilty of failure to appear in an out of state court hearing?


A JD degree is a Juris Doctor. That “juris” shows up in “jurisdiction,” which means “what the law says.” A court has jurisdiction if it controls how the law is administered in a certain geographic area, like a state. So if your divorce started in, for example, New Jersey and you move to Virginia, New Jersey still has jurisdiction over your divorce.

Failure to Appear

Technically, “failure to appear” at a court hearing is a crime. Failure to appear in Virginia for a court date is contempt of court, punishable under Virginia Code § 19.2-129 using a range of penalties outlined in § 19.2-128. For civil matters, failure to appear may provoke a fine if you cannot provide a reasonable excuse, even after the fact. Other states have similar measures.

You will only be cited with failure to appear and contempt of court if you do not notify the court well ahead of time that you will be unable to make a specific court date. For civil matters, such as an uncontested divorce, you may not have to appear at all, whether in Virginia or out of state. In a contested divorce, your failure to appear could be a touchy issue and cause for a delay or even a dismissal.

Each state is slightly different, so you will be best protected by consulting your Virginia divorce attorney to learn exactly how another state handles your divorce. Virginia attorneys are not required to master all fifty states’ proceedings and guidelines, but your Virginia Beach attorney can readily help you find out from a South Dakota attorney how The Mount Rushmore State handles these things.

Who Started It?

If you filed a motion for divorce in another state and then relocated to Virginia (again, military, job, education; whatever legitimate reason you may have had), you are the complainant and your wife is the respondent. You had divorce papers served on her and contacted a court in that other state to proceed with the divorce. This also works in the other direction, where you may have filed for divorce in Virginia prior to moving to another state.

If you receive a court date and do not contact the state in which the divorce is being processed, your motion could be thrown out. Multiple no-shows could mean your divorce itself is tossed. If, on the other hand, you travel to that other state from Virginia and your wife fails to show, you may win a default judgment against her.

Don’t Be Stubborn

Perhaps you recently moved to Virginia to put distance between you and a separated spouse. Perhaps have received notice, living in Virginia that you are required to return to the state you both lived in before separating.

Seeking vengeance against your estranged wife, you decide not to show up for your out of state contested divorce, child custody or other family law hearing. You think — erroneously — that will somehow put an end to the matter. Your stubbornness may delay proceedings, but the other state will still move ahead with your case, noting for the record that you failed to appear.

Attorney Power

Though your family law attorney has remarkable and persuasive powers, no lawyer is a complete substitute for a client. If you suspect you will not be able to make an out of state court hearing, contact your attorney as quickly as possible. The more your attorney can learn about the hearing, the more likely you are to be able to either reschedule the hearing or provide that attorney with sufficient information and documentation to handle the hearing alone.

If you and your wife have settled everything through an amicable process, have an uncontested divorce and the property settlement agreement is complete, neither of you may be required to appear in any court, whether in Virginia or out of state. Her attorney and yours have all the skills and power they need to adequately represent you in court.

To get personal answers to all your family law questions, a call to The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184 will put you in touch with a Virginia attorney. If you have an out of state court hearing looming, contact us to get us on your side. If you have a kids’ birthday party looming, you’ll want Rob Westcott and Prince Charming on your side.

[1] http://www.robwestcottmagic.com/