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Legal Information: Virginia

Virginia Divorce

Laws current as of
September 6, 2019

This section has basic information about divorce laws in Virginia. You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.

What types of divorce are there in Virginia?

Virginia has two kinds of divorce:

  • divorce from bed and board; and
  • divorce from the bond of matrimony.

A divorce from bed and board is a partial divorce. The judge can decide maintenance, property distribution, custody, and other issued typically handled in a divorce but a divorce from bed and board does not end the marriage. You cannot get remarried after a divorce from bed and board.1

You can only get a divorce from bed and board if you claim that your spouse has:

  • been cruel to you;
  • caused you to reasonably fear bodily harm;
  • willfully deserted you; or
  • abandoned you.1

A divorce from the bond of matrimony is a complete divorce that ends the marriage and allows both you and your spouse to remarry.2

Note: The rest of WomensLaw.org’s information about divorce in Virginia is about divorce from the bond of matrimony. If you are interested in getting a divorce from bed and board, you may want to go to our Finding a Lawyer page to speak to a lawyer in Virginia.

1 VA ST § 20-95; 20-116; “Divorce in Virginia,” Virginia State Bar
2Divorce in Virginia,” Virginia State Bar

What are the residency requirements for divorce in Virginia?

You can file for divorce in Virginia if you or your spouse have lived in Virginia for six months before you file and one of you still lives in Virginia at the time you file.1 If you or your spouse are in the military, see What are the residency requirements for divorce in Virginia if my spouse or I am in the military or a civilian employee of the United States?

1 VA ST § 20-97

What are the residency requirements for divorce in Virginia if my spouse or I am in the military or a civilian employee of the United States?

You may file for divorce in Virginia if either you or your spouse is a member of the U.S. armed services and is stationed in Virginia for at least six months before you file. Being “stationed” in Virginia includes, but is not limited to:

  • living on a ship that is in port in Virginia; or
  • living at an air, naval, or military base in Virginia over which the U.S. has exclusive federal jurisdiction.1

You may also file for divorce in Virginia even while you are stationed in another country or territory as long as:

  • you lived in Virginia for six months before being stationed in another country or territory,

and either you or your spouse is:

  • a member of the U.S. armed forces; or
  • a civilian employee of the U.S., including a foreign service officer.1

1 VA ST § 20-97

What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?

Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce. You can get a divorce in Virginia without claiming that your spouse is at fault if:

  1. you and your spouse live separate and apart without “cohabitating” for at least one year; or
  2. you and your spouse enter into a separation agreement, do not share any biological or adopted children, and live separate and apart without “cohabitating” for at least six months.1

Note: “Cohabitating” means that you and your spouse live together as if you were a married couple.1

The judge can also grant you a divorce in Virginia for certain “fault-based” grounds. The judge can grant you a fault-based divorce if your spouse:

  1. is guilty of cruelty, causing you reasonable fear of bodily harm;
  2. willfully deserts or abandons you for one year;
  3. commits adultery, sodomy outside of the marriage, or a sexual act with an animal (“buggery”), unless:
  • you continued living with your spouse after finding out about the act;
  • it has been more than five years since your spouse committed the act; or
  • you convinced or coerced your spouse to commit the act;2 or
  1. is convicted of a felony after you are married and all of the following are true:
    • s/he is sentenced to prison for more than one year for the conviction;
    • s/he goes to prison; and
    • you do not continue to live together as a married couple when s/he gets out of prison.3

You may still get divorced if both you and your spouse accuse each other of one of these faults. You may also still get divorced if either you or your spouse has been legally judged insane.1

Note: A judge may choose to grant a divorce on no-fault grounds, even if you ask for a fault-based divorce; or grant a divorce on fault-based grounds, even if you ask for a no-fault divorce. This is up to the judge to decide.4

If your spouse claims that you are at fault for the divorce, it may affect whether you are able to get alimony. Learn more about this at Can I get alimony?

1 VA ST § 20-91(A)(9)(a)
2 VA ST § 20-94
3 VA ST § 20-91(A)(1), (A)(3), (A)(6)
4Divorce in Virginia,” Virginia State Bar

Can I get alimony?

Alimony, also called “maintenance” or “support,” is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse. A judge can give you maintenance when s/he gives you an annulment, a divorce, or in a separate maintenance action.1 The judge can award you:

  • periodic maintenance, which is multiple payments over time;
  • a lump sum award, which is maintenance in a one-time, complete payment; or
  • some combination of periodic maintenance and a lump sum award. 2

Maintenance can last for as much or as little time as the judge decides. Maintenance can even last permanently.3

The judge can also protect (reserve) your right to future support, regardless of whether or not the judge gives you maintenance right now. This reservation to file for future support can last for half the “length of your marriage,” which is defined as the time between the date of the marriage and the date of separation. For example, if you were married for ten years, your right to file for support in the future would be reserved for five years.4

The judge cannot give you permanent maintenance if it is proven that you committed adultery, sodomy outside of the marriage, or buggery., even if your spouse did not get a divorce on one of these grounds. However, the judge may still choose to give you periodic maintenance for a limited amount of time or lump sum maintenance if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that it would be unfair (“a manifest injustice”) to deny maintenance, even if you committed one of the above acts based on:

  • how much you and your spouse are each responsible for the end of the marriage; and
  • you and your spouse’s respective financial circumstances.5

1 VA ST § 20-107.1(A)
2 VA ST § 20-107.1(C)
3 VA ST § 20-107.1(B);(C)
4 VA ST § 20-107.1(D)
5 VA ST § 20-107.1(B); Barnes v. Barnes, 428 S.E.2d 294, 298 (Va. App. 1993)

What factors will a judge consider when deciding whether to grant alimony?

A judge will decide whether or not to grant maintenance after considering the circumstances and reasons the marriage ended. A judge must specifically consider whether there were any possible fault-based grounds for divorce., even if the divorce was not given on a fault-based ground.1 You can see these grounds at What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?

A judge will decide what kind of maintenance to award, how much maintenance to award, and how long maintenance will last after considering the following factors:

  1. the needs, responsibilities, and financial resources of each spouse, including pension, profit sharing, or retirement plans;
  2. the way you and your spouse lived while married (“standard of living”);
  3. how long you were married;
  4. how old you and your spouse are, your physical and mental conditions, and any special family circumstances;
  5. if either your or your spouse’s ages, physical or mental conditions, or special circumstances of your children would make it difficult for you or your spouse to work outside of the home;
  6. the contributions, both financial and otherwise, of each spouse to the well-being of the family;
  7. the property each spouse has, including marital property;
  8. how marital property was divided in the divorce;
  9. your and your spouse’s ability to earn money, including each of your skills, education, training, and current employment opportunities;
  10. the chance, ability, time, and costs for you or your spouse to get the education, training, and employment needed to earn more money;
  11. any decisions about jobs, careers, education, or parenting arrangements that you and your spouse made while married, and how those decisions affected your income and future job opportunities, including the length of time you or your spouse has been out of the job market;
  12. the extent that each spouse has helped or supported the other with education, training, or moving up in a job while you were married; and
  13. any other factors that it would be fair to consider, including the tax consequences to each party, the circumstances and factors that contributed to the divorce, and reasons you got divorced.2

1 VA ST § 20-107.1(B); Zinkhan v. Zinkhan, 342 S.E.2d 658, 663 (Va. App. 1986)
2 VA ST § 20-107.1(E) “Divorce in Virginia,” Virginia State Bar

What are the basic steps to get a divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow to obtain a divorce:

  • First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
  • Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse - for the exact rules for serving the papers, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side. In his/her response, the other party may express his/her opinion challenging the divorce, asking that it be granted under different grounds or letting the judge know that s/he agrees to the divorce. If your spouse contests the divorce, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce.)
  • Fifth, if there are property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues. The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce. Custody and child support may also be decided as part of your divorce.

Where can I find additional information about divorce in Virginia?

Virginia Legal Aid Society has answers to some frequently asked questions about divorce and separation in Virginia. Included in this link is information about the grounds for divorce, the residency requirements in order to seek a divorce in Virginia, and an explanation about the grounds for an annulment.

Central Virginia Legal Aid Society explains the factors considered by a judge when granting spousal support in Virginia. (And WomensLaw.org has the actual language of the law regarding spousal support and the factors considered on our VA Statutes page.)

The Fairfax Circuit Court has a pro se divorce brochure, which walks you through the divorce process.

WomensLaw.org has no relationship with the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information on their sites. We provides these links solely for informational purposes.