Virginia offers two types of divorce: a bed and board divorce, which offers separation but not complete legal end to the marriage, and matrimonial divorce, which ends the marriage completely. Both types require residence in Virginia, as well as adequate grounds for divorce. Once these grounds are proved, the judge will issue a decree of divorce, which dictates what the spouses must do about alimony and property distribution.
Grounds for Divorce
A bed and board divorce creates legal separation, but doesn't completely end the marriage; spouses who have a bed and board divorce are not free to marry another person. There are two separate grounds for bed and board divorce: desertion with an intent to abandon and cruelty that causes a reasonable expectation of bodily harm. By contrast, a matrimonial divorce absolutely severs the marital relationship. Matrimonial divorce can be based on the grounds of fault such as adultery or a felony conviction and a year in jail or the fault-free grounds that the marriage is no longer viable. This fault-free type of matrimonial divorce demands that the spouses live separately for at least six months before filing or one year if the marriage includes children; they must sleep separately and have no sexual relations.
Spouses who file for divorce in Virginia must reside in the state for at least six months. The spouse seeking divorce begins by filing a Bill of Complaint for Divorce, a document containing information about both spouses, with the circuit court where either she or her husband lives. Her husband can then file his answer to the complaint. Even if he fails to answer, the court will move the case forward to a hearing if her husband was properly served with the Complaint. At the hearing, the complaining spouse must prove her grounds for divorce; if she does so, the divorce process will proceed. Once all issues of property division, child custody and child and spousal support are decided, the judge will issue a final divorce decree.
In dividing marital property, Virginia follows the equitable distribution system. Under equitable distribution, the judge determines how to divide all property that the spouses own together. This joint property, as well as any property such as earnings or part of a retirement plan that a spouse earned over the course of the marriage, is known as marital property. Virginia has no requirement of equal property division; the judge can divide the property as he considers fair and equitable, based on factors listed in the Virginia Statutes. These factors include: the amount which the judge feels each spouse contributed to the family's well-being; any fault causing the divorce; the parties' ages and general health; resulting tax liability from the distribution. The spouses' separate property, meaning property they each acquired before and after the marriage, as well as any gifts or inheritances they received as individuals, will belong to them separately.
The final divorce decree will detail any spousal support requirements. Virginia grants spousal support in an amount that will lessen the burden on a spouse who may face financial hardship. Historically, a spouse who was found at fault in the divorce could not receive spousal support under Virginia law; this law has changed, but the court can still look at fault and decide to reduce the award. Both spouses can also choose not to seek support at the time of the divorce decree; rather, they can reserve the right to decide support later. The reservation period during which the right stays alive is typically half as long as the duration of the marriage.