Acceptable Grounds for Divorce in Virginia

There are three main players involved in your divorce: you, your spouse, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Just as Virginia has laws about getting married, it also has certain criteria for officially ending a marriage. Among other legal considerations, you cannot simply leave your spouse, gather your things, and immediately tell the court you need a divorce. You have to give the court an acceptable reason why you should be allowed to end your marriage. The reason is known as the ground for your divorce. In Virginia, the grounds of divorce are laid out in Code of Virginia; Title 20, Section 20-91.

Fault-Based Divorce

In a fault divorce, one spouse alleges that the other spouse did something which caused the marriage to fail. In Virginia, acceptable fault grounds are: adultery or same sex conduct with another person, cruelty caused reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion, and a felony conviction with more than one year of confinement and with no resumption of cohabitation. In our practice, we commonly see at-fault divorces filed based on adultery, cruelty, or desertion.

Voluntary Separation/No-Fault Divorce

In a no-fault divorce, the spouse filing for divorce does not have to prove any fault on the part of the other spouse. All a spouse has to do is give any reason that the state honors for the divorce. In Virginia, the reason/ground of divorce under the law is living “separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year.” Either spouse may elect to file for divorce once the statutory separation period is met. You can learn more about separation and specifically “in-house separation” here. If you do not have any minor children and you and your spouse have entered into a separation agreement, you would qualify for a divorce after six (6) months of separation.

Your Case

Depending on your particular circumstances and if multiple grounds are applicable, there may be a strategic advantage in filing under certain grounds. Also, simply asserting a ground of divorce is not enough. You need to provide the court with facts to support your assertion. An experienced family law attorney can consult with you about what grounds of divorce are applicable to your circumstances and help you navigate through Virginia’s divorce procedures.


Jessica Arena  
About the Author

Ms. Arena is a member of the Family Law Section of the Virginia State Bar, a certified Guardian ad litem, and admitted to practice in Virginia and the United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia.