Litigation begins when one party files a Complaint for Divorce in the Circuit Court of the county where the parties last resided together as husband and wife. A Summons is prepared by the clerk’s office, and then the Complaint and Summons are served on the other party, either by the sheriff’s office or by a private process server. The other party is then required to file an Answer within 21 days and may also file a Counterclaim.
After the parties have filed their initial pleadings, counsel may be called into court to select court date(s), which may vary from a couple of hours to several days. In Fairfax County, the court will require you to select separate hearing dates for custody and visitation matters versus equitable distribution, support matters, and grounds for divorce.
It is likely that you and your spouse, through counsel, will also propound discovery on the other side. Discovery is the process through which the parties and their counsel learn facts about their divorce case and gather documentation to present as evidence at trial.
Once discovery has been completed, your attorneys will try to narrow down the issues that remain in dispute, so that those will be ripe for litigation.
Trial preparations will include conferences with the client, interviews with any appropriate witnesses, including experts, and preparation of trial exhibit notebooks. Your attorneys may also file various Motions and resolve certain trial matters in advance of trial on “Motions Day.”
At trial, your attorney will present your case through testimony of the parties and their witnesses, the submission of documentary evidence, and legal argument.
At the conclusion of the trial, the attorneys will submit a final order to the court setting out the ruling of the trial court. Once the final order is signed by the judge, you are divorced.