Divorce and Marriage Laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia

by Mary Jane Freeman Google
Sometimes marriages don't last, despite the best intentions.

Sometimes marriages don't last, despite the best intentions.

Jeffrey Hamilton/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Oftentimes, marriage and divorce conjure up great emotion in the parties involved. Happiness and excitement usually surround the act of marriage, while divorce is sometimes accompanied by hurt feelings, tension, frustration and even disappointment. If you live in Virginia, entering into marriage is relatively simple. If that marriage comes to an end, however, it will take a bit more work to dissolve it in the eyes of the law.

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Getting Married

To marry in the commonwealth of Virginia, you must be 18 or older, or have the consent of your parents or guardian. A marriage license is then obtained from the clerk or deputy clerk of the city or county circuit court. Once the marriage license is issued, it remains valid for 60 days. Therefore, the marriage must be solemnized within that period. Marriages are typically solemnized with a marriage ceremony officiated by a judge or religious official, such as a pastor or rabbi. If the marriage is not solemnized within 60 days, the license expires.

Getting Divorced

Spouses who decide to divorce, known as "divorce from the bond of matrimony" in Virginia, start the process by filing a divorce petition with the court. In this petition, the filing spouse states her grounds -- or reasons -- for divorce. Virginia recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds. No-fault divorce is popular because it does not require proving one spouse is at fault for the divorce, only that the spouses have lived separate and apart, without cohabitation, for one year. If the couple doesn't have any children and have reached a settlement agreement, this period is reduced to six months. Fault grounds, on the other hand, do require proving misconduct on the part of a spouse. Some of Virginia's fault grounds include adultery, desertion and cruelty.

Contested Vs. Uncontested Divorce

Divorce in Virginia is greatly simplified when the couple can agree on the terms of their divorce, such as property division, alimony, child support and custody. When this happens, the divorce is considered "uncontested." If spouses cannot agree on one or more of these issues, the divorce is contested and a court will make these decisions. For example, Virginia is an equitable distribution state. This means the court will divide marital debt and property in a manner that is fair and just, not necessarily equal, based on the circumstances of the marriage. It also means the court may consider fault when making its decision. If spouses can't reach an agreement on their own, they could end up with an uneven split of debt and property courtesy of the court.

Child Custody

If a couple has children and can't agree on a custody arrangement, the court will also make this decision for them. Virginia courts decide custody based on what is in the best interests of the child. Virginia law does not favor one spouse or the other when determining custody, but rather encourages the participation of both parents in the child's upbringing. Additionally, the court will consider such factors as the relationship between the child and each parent, physical and mental health of both the parents and child, the child's home environment, role each parent has played in the upbringing and care of the child, and the wishes of the child if he is of sufficient age and maturity.