Can Personality Changes be Grounds for Divorce?
Researchers may have hit upon one factor explaining many Northern Virginia divorces: Personality Evolution. The longest personality study ever conducted confirms that people change so dramatically as they grow older that they often bear almost no resemblance to their younger selves. In 1950, researchers at the University of Edinburgh asked teachers to assess six specific personality traits of 1,208 14-year-old students: self-confidence, originality, perseverance, conscientiousness, stability of moods, and desire to excel. In 2012, 174 of the original students agreed to participate in a second evaluation. These former students – now in their mid-70s – completed detailed questionnaires rating themselves on the same characteristics. Moreover, they also had close friends or relatives evaluate their personality. After comparing the results, the researchers found virtually no overlap; it was “as if the second tests had been given to different people,” the study’s authors found. “Personality changes only gradually through life, but by older age it may be quite different from personality in childhood.”
This finding provides a benign explanation for the “my spouse has changed” and “my spouse is not who he or she once was” rationale provided during divorce consultations throughout Northern Virginia. For purposes of divorce, however, what we might call “negative personality evolution” is not a ground for divorce. The closest ground of divorce recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia is likely “cruelty.” Cruelty, for purposes of divorce, refers to conduct that renders martial cohabitation unsafe or involves danger to life, limb, or education; it’s conduct entirely subversive of family relations that renders family association intolerable. Mental anguish, repeated and unrelenting acts of neglect and humiliation may also amount to cruelty. Importantly, though, cruelty is not mere coldness or rude language. I suspect for many Fairfax County Circuit Court Judges it is a “know it when you see it” phenomenon.
If your spouse has changed and you are wondering whether his or her conduct constitutes cruelty for purposes of divorce, feel free to reach out to one of our family law attorneys.