Divorce in Virginia, Part 2

Two types of ‘divorce’

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Divorce from bed and board: Virginia’s answer to legal separation

To continue our discussion of grounds for divorce  from Part 1, we turn to the State Bar, explaining about “legal separation,” Virginia style, and the distinction apart from “absolute divorce”:

Virginia law recognizes two types of divorce: divorce from bed and board (a mensa et thoro) and a divorce from the bond of matrimony (a vinculo matrimonii). A divorce from bed and board is a partial or qualified divorce under which a husband and wife are legally separated from each other but are not permitted to remarry. A divorce from the bond of matrimony is a complete and absolute divorce. Any person granted a divorce from bed and board may ask the court to “merge” the decree into a divorce from the bond of matrimony after at least one year has passed from the date the parties originally separated.

The law requires that “grounds” (valid reasons for divorce prescribed by law) for divorce must exist and be proven to the court even if the husband and wife agree that a marriage should end. These grounds are briefly described below.

Separation can lead to absolute divorce

Divorce from Bed and Board

a. Willful desertion or abandonment

Desertion or abandonment requires both the breaking off of cohabitation and an intent to desert in the mind of the offender. A mere separation by mutual consent will not be considered desertion by either spouse. Further, if one spouse leaves because the other has committed acts that legally amount to cruelty, then the spouse who leaves is not guilty of desertion. In fact, the spouse who leaves may be awarded a divorce on the ground of cruelty or constructive desertion.

If desertion grounds exist, a suit for a divorce from bed and board may be filed with the court immediately after the separation. If the desertion continues for more than one year from the date the parties originally separated, then the desertion is sufficient to constitute a ground for divorce from the bond of matrimony.

Cruelty and reasonable apprehension of bodily harm

Virginia statutes differ from many other states where verbal and emotional abuse is taken as seriously as physical abuse. As is the case with desertion, though, cruelty can be the basis for legal separation that turns into absolute divorce. Again, from the bar association:

Cruelty authorizing divorce requires acts that tend to cause bodily harm and render the spouses’ living together unsafe. Mental cruelty alone is not normally a ground for divorce in Virginia. However, if the conduct is such that it affects and endangers the mental or physical health of the divorce-seeking spouse, it may be sufficient to establish grounds for divorce. Normally, however, rude words alone will not suffice.

Cruelty constitutes the basis for a divorce from bed and board and can be filed immediately after the parties separate. After one year has elapsed from the time the act(s) of cruelty were committed, grounds will exist for a divorce from the bond of matrimony.

Continued in: Divorce in Virginia, Part 3 (more about fault-based grounds for divorce, plus court information).

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