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Marriage is a special relationship that is favored by the law. It serves not only the personal, financial, psychological, and emotional needs of the spouses, but also fosters important social and community values.
Many of the legal aspects of family are addressed by the Virginia Code. Va. Code § 20-91 describes grounds, or basis, upon which a marital relationship can be ended. The grounds can be divided into two categories of “fault grounds” and “no-fault grounds.”
The fault grounds that most commonly arise are adultery, desertion, and cruelty. There are others that arise infrequently such as conviction of a felony.
Adultery is defined by Va. Code § 18.2-365 to apply to any person, being married, who voluntarily shall have sexual intercourse with any person not his or her spouse.
Desertion occurs when a spouse leaves the marital relationship without just cause or excuse.
Cruelty includes acts of physical harm, injury, or domestic violence inflected by one spouse on the other.
In some instances, the fault grounds require more than the fault. Desertion and cruelty additionally require a one-year period of separation. There is no required period of separation for adultery, but practically speaking, a divorce based upon adultery will take nearly as long to complete as a divorce on a basis requiring a year of separation.
The no-fault ground is satisfied if and when the husband and wife have lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year. There is a special condition for no-fault divorce that permits a divorce with only six months separation but requires there be no minor children and written agreement that resolves all issues.
The grounds for divorce must be established because it is the prerequisite for the court to address matters of property.
Teresa S. Cole
Michael C. Miller
Virginia C. Haizlip
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