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  • John C. Whitbeck, Jr.


    John C. Whitbeck, Jr. practices in the following areas of law: Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Mediation, Arbitration, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, All Felonies, All Misdemeanors, Juvenile Crimes, Mental Health Law, Civil and Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Education Law, Election Law, Debt Collection, Consumer and Lemon Law.

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  • Ruth M. McElroy


    Ruth M. McElroy practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Pre and Post Marital Agreements, Domestic Violence, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Juvenile Crimes, Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes, Traffic Offenses, Debt Collection, Civil and Business Litigation. She serves the Virginia Court system as a Guardian ad litem.

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  • Jennifer D. Cisneros


    Jennifer D. Cisneros practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Crimes, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Estate Planning, Wills and Probate, Trusts, Civil and Business Litigation and Debt Collection.

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Answering a Divorce Lawsuit in Virginia


If you have been served with a complaint for divorce, the process can seem confusing and maybe even overwhelming. Retaining a Virginia divorce attorney is highly recommended to ensure your rights and assets are protected.

Formal Start of the Divorce

A divorce formally begins when one party files the complaint. Prior to that, the court has no way to know anything about the state of your marriage. In Virginia, the timing of the divorce complaint can vary based on the specific circumstances. For example, if your divorce is based on the other party’s fault, for reasons like adultery, cruelty, or abandonment, you are entitled to file the divorce complaint immediately even though the divorce likely won’t be decided until a year from your date of separation. If it’s a no-fault divorce, which means there are no fault-based grounds, or there are grounds, but you are opting not to use them, then there is a waiting period to file but you can file other related matters in the meantime like custody, spousal support and child support petitions.

No matter what the timing is on the complaint, the remainder of the procedure is very similar. Once the complaint is filed, it must be served on the other spouse, and then the responding spouse is required to respond to the complaint by filing such pleadings as an “answer” the complaint. The only time you don’t answer the complaint is when the divorce is uncontested and both spouses have signed a separation agreement.  If your divorce is contested, you should talk to an attorney about the other options available to you as an alternative to filing just an “answer.”

Answering the Complaint

Once you have been served, you have 21 days from the date of service to file your answer. You can opt to file just an answer, or you can file an answer and counterclaim. Answering the complaint helps protect your rights, otherwise the filing party will move to have the court enter a default judgment.

There are things you must consider prior to filing an answer or a counterclaim. Some of these include:

  • Are there are minor children involved? Are they biologically yours, or were they adopted during the marriage? Is anything in dispute regarding the children’s paternity, custody or visitation, child support, etc.?
  • Do you and your soon-to-be ex own property together? Is it jointly titled, and will it need to be divided?
  • Does the complaint include fault for the divorce, like desertion or adultery?
  • Do you require an order of spousal support now, or will there be a need down the line?
  • Are there debts you have now that were incurred by you or your spouse that are still outstanding?

If your answers are no, there may not be a need to file an answer. However, if you think you may need spousal support at any time down the line, not answering the complaint will cause you to forever waive your future rights.

Retaining a Virginia Divorce Attorney

What happens after the answer is filed can become more complex as the case proceeds through discovery. This is one of the reasons why it’s good to have a divorce attorney on your side. The time to resolve a divorce can vary widely as well. A contested at-fault divorce takes a considerably longer time to resolve than an uncontested no-fault divorce that has no property, children, or spousal support payments involved.

If you have questions about filing an answer or need an attorney to represent you in your divorce, contact Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation. Let one of our skilled divorce attorneys help you get the divorce settlement you deserve.

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