In Virginia, you are separated when either you or your husband decides that the marriage is over and you stop cohabitating. It’s really a two part test. You have to realize that the marriage is over and accept that it’s beyond repair, but you also have to stop holding yourselves out as husband and wife, both at home and in your community.
The marriage is over
Once you decide that the marriage is over, you’ve begun the process of separating. It’s not a legal process where you have to file forms or petition the court to recognize your changed marital status, though it does work that way in some states. In Virginia, no paperwork is required. Just the intent formed in your mind is enough.
Of course, this can make for some “he said, she said” situations. If you decided that the marriage was over before he decided it was over, you may disagree over the actual date of separation. Usually, though, these dates aren’t that far apart but, if they are and you just can’t agree on a date, you can have the court determine the date of separation for you. Usually, this is a relatively minor issue that is easily settled.
Cohabitation is the way you and your husband lived together when you were married, and it includes the way you behave when you’re alone, and the way you behave when you’re in public.
Ideally, when you separate, you and your husband should start living in different places. However, financially this isn’t always feasible, so sometimes separated couples do live in the same home together. If you live separately, it’s not an issue because you’re completely separate—you’re not living together at all. If you’re living in the same home, you’ll have to start living with him like he’s your roommate instead of your husband. You’ll have to do your own cooking, cleaning, laundry, and shopping—and he’ll have to take responsibility for his own.
In public, you’ll have to stop holding yourselves out like the happy couple, no matter how difficult that may be. You can’t ride to the kid’s soccer games together and co-host neighborhood block parties together the way you used to. You should show your friends and your family that you are separated by your actions and by the way that you conduct yourselves. You should be polite and cordial, but you should not be acting the same as you did when you weren’t separated.
At the end of your year of separation, you’ll have to establish the date on which your separation began and, from that point, you’ll have to demonstrate to the judge that you and your husband did, in fact, live separately during that time.