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What are grounds for divorce in Virginia?

Readers may not realize that there are actually two kinds of divorce under Virginia law. Whether a person qualifies for one type of divorce or the other, and when they legally can file for divorce, depends on their individual circumstances.

“Bed and board” divorce

The first divorce allowed in Virginia is called divorce from “bed and board.” This is similar to legal separation, in that the marriage is not completely dissolved, but the spouses live apart and are not allowed to remarry.

There are two permissible grounds for bed and board divorce:

  • Willful desertion or abandonment
  • Cruelty

Desertion involves one spouse moving out of the marital home, creating a reasonable impression in the other spouse that he or she has been deserted. However, if the spouse left because of “cruelty” (more on that below), the other spouse would not be entitled to divorce via desertion.

For purposes of Virginia’s divorce law, cruelty means acts by the offending spouse that causes physical harm to the other, or makes continuing to live with him or her unsafe. Verbal abuse is not generally enough under current law.

“Bond of matrimony” divorce

Unlike bed and board divorce, getting divorced from the bond of matrimony is a complete dissolution of the marriage. Perhaps because of this, Virginia requires that the spouses be continuously separated for at least one year before they can finalize the divorce. However, if the couple has no minor children and agree to a property settlement, the court can reduce the waiting period to six months.

Alternatively, a spouse must prove that the other spouse committed adultery. The law requires conclusive proof of adultery, beyond the testimony of the spouse who allegedly was cheated on. A spouse getting convicted of a felony is also grounds for a complete divorce.

Which arrangement is best depends on the spouse’s goals and circumstances. A consultation with a family law attorney can help you understand what sort of divorce to pursue.

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