For a Virginia court to have jurisdiction over a suit for an annulment or divorce, the parties to the suit must first satisfy domicile and residential requirements. The Code of Virginia § 20-97 provides the governing law for the domicile and residential requirements. Not only does § 20-97 list the requirements for civilians, but it also details the requirements for U.S. military members who seek to sue for divorce or annulment in the Commonwealth. Given Virginia’s reputation as a military hub, especially in relation to the local Tidewater region, it becomes a matter of great importance for service members to know what they must be able to establish in order to bring a divorce or annulment suit in Virginia.
In general, § 20-97 requires at least one of the parties in a suit for divorce or annulment to be a bona fide resident and domiciliary of Virginia for at least six months prior to commencement of the suit. A domicile is the place where the individual is present and intends to permanently reside and make his home. A person can only have one domicile at a time even though they may be living somewhere else, and one’s domicile will not change until the person establishes physical presence and the intent to make another state his permanent home.
However, § 20-97 also outlines various special guidelines applicable only to members of the armed forces or foreign service. Notably, Virginia allows for U.S. military members who have been stationed or resided and lived within the Commonwealth for at least six months to be considered both a domiciliary and bona fide resident during that period. Being stationed or residing in the Commonwealth is further defined to include, but is not limited to situations in which a servicemember is stationed or residing at a military base or on a ship whose home port is within the Commonwealth and under the exclusive federal jurisdiction of the United States.
Additionally, § 20-97 allows for members of the U.S. military and the U.S. foreign service to be considered domiciled and bona fide residents of Virginia during the six months prior to commencing a suit for divorce or annulment if: (i) immediately before or at the time the suit was commenced the servicemember was stationed in another country or territory and (ii) had been domiciled in Virginia for the six months immediately before being stationed elsewhere.
The overall effect of the military specific guidelines found in § 20-97 is to permit Virginia to more efficiently and effectively accommodate our U.S. servicemembers regarding domicile and residence requirements. As such, members of the armed forces should not be discouraged from filing for divorce or annulment in Virginia merely because of later deployment or foreign stationing. If you are a servicemember and you are considering filing for divorce or annulment in Virginia, consultation with an attorney is recommended to ensure that Virginia has the proper jurisdiction to handle your divorce and all other aspects of your case.
An outstanding job on my case to have custody, visitation and support decided in my home state instead of Virginia after I separated from military service.- A.E.