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Virginia Divorce Law: The Four Grounds for Divorce in Virginia
December 30, 2011Posted by on
There are four main grounds for divorce in Virginia. These are identified in Virginia Code § 20-91. The first three are usually considered “fault” grounds and the last is considered a “no-fault” ground for divorce.
The four grounds for divorce in Virginia are as follows:
1) Adultery or sodomy and buggery outside the marriage
2) When one party had been convicted of a felony and confined in prison for more than one year
3) Cruelty, causing reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion or abandonment
4) Having lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year.
Adultery is the act of having sexual relations with someone other than your spouse. Most importantly, in order to qualify as a grounds for divorce, the adulterous conduct by one of the parties must be the reason for the disintegration of the marriage. There have been many defenses that attempt to show disintegration prior to an adulterous act. In some states, you are free to have relations after you separate. InVirginia, it is considered adultery to have sexual relations with another at any time while you are married. This is an important distinction. There is no statutory waiting period for divorces based on adultery.
Interestingly enough, adultery is a misdemeanor in Virginia. As a result, you must prove adultery by “clear and convincing” evidence. You do not need to catch your spouse “in the act.” It is sufficient to establish time and opportunity of circumstance, as well as an inclination to act. However, one needs an independent witness even if your spouse admits his or her infidelity.
When confronted with adultery, one may want to address issues with a counselor and decide whether one is capable of resurrecting the marriage. One also needs to decide if it is worthwhile to pursue the divorce on these grounds from an emotional as well as financial perspective.
2. Felony Conviction
Felony conviction is a grounds for divorce in Virginia when your spouse is convicted of felony during marriage for which he/she is sentenced to more than l year in jail and cohabitation with your spouse is not resumed after knowledge of the confinement.
3. Desertion and Cruelty
Desertion occurs when one spouse leaves the marital home and such leaving is not agreed upon by the remaining spouse. The party leaving must also desire the separation to be permanent. A cooling off period is not desertion, nor is a trip or a separate vacation. If both parties agree to a separation, one does not have grounds for desertion. If one alleges desertion, the alleging party must show that the leaving spouse intended the separation to be permanent and that his or her leaving was not condoned in any way by the one who remains. There is a one year statutory waiting period for divorce based on desertion. Once a divorce action is filed, it is not desertion to leave the marital home.
Desertion requires the concept of “clean hands.” Although a gradual breakdown in a martial relationship is not a legal justification for leaving, the person remaining must show that he or she did nothing to cause the other to leave. This does not mean that one cannot leave, only that he or she should be sure they can justify leaving.
Cruelty is one form of justification of leaving. It usually requires some form of physical violence or reasonable apprehension of bodily harm. Harm can be both physical and emotional. Usually one act does not trigger an ability to get a divorce based on cruelty. For one act to qualify, the act must be so bad that any reasonable person would be shocked upon hearing of it. Unfortunately, a slap does not usually reach this level of shock, but repeated slapping does. Thus, minor instances which are repeated can qualify as grounds for a divorce based on cruelty.
The Court can find that a cruel spouse is guilty of “constructive desertion” when that spouse’s acts cause the other spouse to leave the marital home to escape further acts of cruelty. The standard of proof for desertion and cruelty is a “preponderance of the evidence.”
4. Separate and Apart
On the application of either party if and when the husband and wife have lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year. In any case where the parties have entered into a separation agreement and there are no minor children either born of the parties, born of either party and adopted by the other or adopted by both parties, a divorce may be decreed on application if and when the husband and wife have lived separately and apart without cohabitation and without interruption for six months. A plea of res adjudicata or of recrimination with respect to any other provision of this section shall not be a bar to either party obtaining a divorce on this ground; nor shall it be a bar that either party has been adjudged insane, either before or after such separation has commenced, but at the expiration of one year or six months, whichever is applicable, from the commencement of such separation, the grounds for divorce shall be deemed to be complete, and the committee of the insane defendant, if there be one, shall be made a party to the cause, or if there be no committee, then the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the insane defendant.
If you feel that filing for Divorce under one of these four grounds is appropriate to your particular situation, don’t hesitate to contact Westlake Legal to schedule a consultation. Our attorneys have over 20 years of combined experience handling a wide variety of divorce issues.