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Does Virginia Have Jurisdiction Over My Divorce?

Why is Jurisdiction Important?

As with any other lawsuit, the first question is whether the court has jurisdiction, or authority to rule over your case. If the court does not have jurisdiction, it cannot hear the case or grant your divorce.  Therefore, before filing for divorce in Virginia, it is important to know whether a Virginia court has jurisdiction over your case.

What are the Criteria for Jurisdiction in Virginia?

The Virginia Code requires that at least one party must have been “a bona fide resident and domiciliary of this Commonwealth for at least six months preceding the commencement of the suit” before a Virginia court will exercise jurisdiction. “bona fide resident” and “domiciliary” are not just similar terms for the same thing.  Rather, each term has its own nuance.

What is the Difference between a Resident and a Domiciliary?

Being a “resident” of Virginia for purposes of the statute means having a “permanent abode” in Virginia. However, to be a “domiciliary” of Virginia, the person must have a “permanent abode” (i.e., be a resident) and have the intention to live in Virginia permanently, or at least indefinitely. Many people have a residence in Virginia but do not have the requisite intention to remain in Virginia permanently or indefinitely.  For example, a contractor living in Virginia for a long building project, or a college student who is in Virginia to attend one of Virginia’s fine universities, may establish a residence, but lack the intent to be a domiciliary.  Conversely, if a person is a resident and domiciliary, then taking a vacation or residing out of state for college or a contract position does not automatically destroy residency or domicile.

Factors that may be considered to determine Domicile

Some factors that may be used in determining domicile include home ownership, payment of state income taxes, registration to vote, having a Virginia driver’s license, and other factors that show a connection between the person and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and an intent to make that connection permanent. However, no one factor is conclusive in and of itself.

 

For military servicemembers, who are often away, the rules are somewhat different. For a fuller explanation of jurisdiction over military servicemembers, see Military Divorce in Virginia: Jurisdiction.

Testimonials

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.