The Family Law Section of the Virginia State Bar provides a pamphlet to answer some of the fundamental questions regarding separation and divorce under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have provided a brief summary here, but we encourage you to download this helpful resource to better understand what to expect from the divorce process.

Court Procedures

Divorce issues are heard in Circuit Court. Both parties may need separate legal counsel, and one party might be responsible for the other's attorney fees, depending on the court's decision.

Grounds for Divorce in Virginia

In Virginia, there are two types of divorce:

  • Divorce from bed and board (a mensa et thoro): This is a partial or qualified divorce where a married couple legally separates but cannot remarry.
  • Divorce from the bond of matrimony (a vincula matrimonii): This is a complete and absolute divorce.

If a person gets a divorce from bed and board, they can later request the court to convert it into a divorce from the bond of matrimony after one year from the date of separation.

For a divorce, certain reasons must exist and be proven to the court, even if both spouses agree to end the marriage. Let's look at the grounds for each type of divorce:

Divorce From Bed and Board

  • Abandonment or willful desertion: This means one spouse intentionally leaves and breaks off sexual relations. If both spouses agree to separate, it's not desertion. Also, if one spouse's actions cause the other to leave, it's not desertion, and the leaving spouse may file for divorce based on cruelty or constructive desertion.
  • Reasonable apprehension of bodily harm and cruelty: Cruelty must endanger the physical or mental health of the spouse seeking divorce, and rude words alone are not enough for divorce.

Divorce From the Bond of Matrimony

  • Separation divorce – the “No Fault” divorce: If one party intends to and they have continuously lived separately for more than one year, a "no-fault" divorce can be granted.
  • Adultery, sodomy, or buggery: Adultery must be proven with firm evidence, and sodomy or buggery must be sexual acts outside the marriage.
  • Conviction of a felony: If one spouse is guilty of a felony and confined for more than a year, the other party can seek a divorce.

Key Aspects of a Property Settlement Agreement

A property settlement agreement is a written contract between the parties that outlines their rights and obligations after divorce, covering property division, spousal support, custody, etc.

Property Rights and Divorce

Virginia law divides property into separate property and marital property. Separate property belongs to one spouse before marriage or acquired after separation, while marital property includes jointly titled property and property acquired during the marriage. The court uses equitable distribution to divide marital property based on various factors.

Spousal Support

Spousal support may or may not be awarded during a divorce. It aims to help the less financially independent spouse. The amount depends on factors like assets, earning potential, and marriage duration.

Child Custody

The court decides child custody based on the best interest of the child. It may grant joint or sole legal custody. Factors considered include the child's age, parents' roles, and physical and mental condition.

Child Support Obligations

The non-custodial parent may be required to contribute to the child's support based on the child's needs and the parent's ability to pay.