Virginia Laws Governing Divorce & Separation

by Elizabeth Rayne
Virginia calls a legal separation

Virginia calls a legal separation "divorce from bed and board."

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Virginia law is unusual in the terminology it uses to refer to divorce and separation. Legal separation is referred to as "divorce from bed and board," while a complete dissolution of the marriage is a "divorce from the bond of matrimony." During a divorce from bed and board, the couple may ask the court to award spousal maintenance or set up a custody schedule, but neither spouse is permitted to remarry until the spouses obtain a divorce from the bond of matrimony.

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Grounds for Divorce

In Virginia, couples may divorce on fault grounds -- meaning that one spouse is responsible for the marriage's failure -- or on no-fault grounds. If the couple simply wants a divorce from bed and board, the available grounds include cruelty, reasonable fear of physical harm, willful desertion or abandonment. For a divorce from the bond of matrimony, the couple may seek a no-fault divorce if they have been physically separated for at least one year. If the couple has not lived separately, they may request a divorce on fault-based grounds, such as cruelty or adultery.

Property Distribution

When it comes to property division in a divorce, Virginia is an "equitable distribution" state. The court will consider all marital property, which means property that is jointly owned by the couple or was acquired during the marriage. The court will not necessarily distribute marital property equally between spouses, but instead considers a number of factors to determine what would be a fair and equitable distribution. Factors the court will consider include each spouse's economic and non-economic contributions to the family and its well being as well each spouse's contribution to acquiring and caring for marital property.

Custody Determinations

If the divorcing couple had children together, the Virginia courts will make custody determinations based on what is in the best interest of the child. The court may award joint legal custody, meaning that both parents may make decisions on behalf of the child, or sole legal custody, in which one parent is responsible for all major decisions for the child. Further, the court may award joint or sole physical custody, which will determine if the child lives with both parents or primarily with one parent. Factors the court will consider include each parent's ability to take care of the child, health of parents and child, and the role each parent played in raising and caring for the child before the divorce.

Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance is not automatically awarded in Virginia. Courts may or may not award support for one spouse based on the specific circumstances of the case and whether one spouse needs help to become financially independent. The court will consider each spouse's income, property and income potential. The court will also look at the length of the marriage, age and health of each spouse and whether one spouse helped the other obtain training or education during the marriage. At the discretion of the court, one spouse may receive a lump sum of spousal maintenance or periodic support paid over a period of time.