Divorce in Virginia, Part 1

Two provisions for no-fault divorce, seven fault-based grounds


Attorney useful even in uncontested proceedings

Experts and legal authorities advise both parties in a contemplated divorce to retain legal counsel, for at least an initial consultation to make clear their legal rights and risks. Even in an uncontested divorce in which both parties agree, experts say that-at least-the one who files the papers should have an attorney in order to ensure the filing is legal and the eventual decree enforceable. (Some terminology: in some states, the spouse who files the civil lawsuit seeking to end the marriage is called the Petitioner, because what is filed is a legal document called a petition; the petition is filed against, and served upon, the Respondent. In other states, the Plaintiff files a complaint against the Defendant.)

Professional counseling

Another thing to consider is professional counseling; many who go through divorce (or dissolution of marriage) report pain and grief equivalent to that of a death in the family. Even when both parties recognize the relationship has run its course, the emotional upheaval can be traumatic. A compatible, experienced attorney can help with appropriate referrals.

Urgently addressing domestic violence

Furthermore, authorities and family law experts say that if the relationship includes domestic violence, it must be addressed immediately. An appropriate attorney can be invaluable, helping not only with restraining/protective orders but also in referrals to counseling and securing emergency shelter (or an escape plan).

Domestic violence resources

Residents of the Old Dominion State have a variety of agencies and facilities that can help with domestic violence, including these online resources:

Residency requirements and grounds for divorce

According to § 20-97 of the Virginia statutes, at least one of the parties must have been a resident of the state for at least six months before the suit is filed. This also applies to military personnel and foreign service officers; further, if such personnel are stationed out of the country, they will be considered residents of Virgina is they were stationed in Virginia for at least six months prior to being assigned out of country.

No-fault provisions

According to § 20-91 (9),  divorce can be granted when:

  1. the couple has been living separate and apart without cohabitation for 1 year; or
  2. the couple has been living separate and apart without cohabitation for six months if no minor children and the spouses have entered into a separation agreement.

Fault-based provisions

From § 20-91 (A):

A divorce from the bond of matrimony may be decreed:

  • (1) For adultery; or for sodomy or buggery committed outside the marriage;
  • (3) Where either of the parties subsequent to the marriage has been convicted of a felony, sentenced to confinement for more than one year and confined for such felony subsequent to such conviction, and cohabitation has not been resumed after knowledge of such confinement (in which case no pardon granted to the party so sentenced shall restore such party to his or her conjugal rights);
  • (6) Where either party has been guilty of cruelty, caused reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, or willfully deserted or abandoned the other, such divorce may be decreed to the innocent party after a period of one year from the date of such act.

Continued in:, Divorce in Virginia, Part 2 (legal separation, known as divorce-from-bed-and-board compared with “absolute divorce” ).

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