Grounds for Virginia Divorce

My college roommate/best friend texted me this morning to ask whether, in my professional opinion, a recent transgression of her husband’s was grounds for divorce. She included a picture, of a bottle of syrup, with the name “Vermont Maid” proudly displayed across the bottle.

I should probably also mention: my friend, Erin, is from Vermont.

I don’t know how much you know about Vermont, so I’ll tell you: for such a little state, Vermonters are very, very proud of it. Everything is Vermont’s own. They shopped small and shopped local before it was even the cool thing to do. And maple? Just. Don’t. Mess. With. It. Okay? Just don’t. EVERYTHING in Vermont is maple flavored — ice cream (which they call creamies), salad dressings, hard candies, soft candies, butter, cheese — I mean, really, the list goes on and on and on.

I should probably also mention that this syrup, this “Vermont Maid” was NOT made in Vermont. It was made in New Jersey. (Yes, you can shudder.)

It’s not even, as you can probably imagine given its questionable origins, actually maple syrup. It’s what Erin calls “faple”, meaning, obviously, fake maple. It’s definitely not Grade A Amber Colored 100% Vermont Maple Syrup.

I don’t need to tell you that Erin was not pleased. And her husband added insult to injury when he said that it had Vermont on the label.

Despite all these obvious flaws, Erin’s husband is a pretty nice guy, his questionable taste in maple syrup notwithstanding. He has been a good husband to her and father to their two children, so I guess he can stay. He’ll clearly need to pay more attention in the syrup aisle in future if he wants his marriage to survive, but no one’s perfect.

Though this little exchange was obviously meant in jest, it did get my attention.

Lots of people — even Vermonters — don’t necessarily know what grounds for divorce are. Though I can’t tell you much about divorce in Vermont, I CAN discuss the ins and outs of divorce in Virginia. If you’re living in Virginia (or Virginia was the last place where you and your husband lived together as a married couple), Virginia should have jurisdiction over your divorce, even if Vermont retains jurisdiction of all of your maple-related product purchases.

We hear all sorts of things about “irreconcilable differences”, but, in Virginia, that’s not a thing.

In Virginia, we group divorces into two categories: fault, and no fault.

Fault based divorce

Fault based divorces comprise a couple of different kinds: adultery, sodomy, and buggery; cruelty and apprehension of bodily hurt; desertion and abandonment; and felony conviction.

Adultery, Sodomy, and Buggery

The sex-based grounds for divorce are all lumped together. We often allege them together (well, maybe not necessarily buggery, but I’ll get to that in a minute) just to cover our bases — because, honestly, no one knows exactly what happens behind closed doors. And, frankly, we don’t want to.

Adultery — which generally includes sodomy and buggery — is involved when a married person has sex (oral, anal, or vaginal) with a person who is not their spouse. The buggery part just means that bestiality is also included, but — don’t let’s worry about that. That’s NOT something that we generally see.

We’re talking about sex, though, and not just a relationship. Not “I love you”s or engagements or dates or kissing or anything like that. We’re talking about proving to a judge that your husband has had sex with someone other than you. It’s fairly tricky to do and, if you’re wondering what steps you should take after you suspect your husband’s affair, it’s a good idea to set up some time to talk one on one to an attorney. Don’t hire a private investigator, confront him, or have sex with him again until AFTER you’ve discussed your rights and options with an attorney.

Cruelty and Apprehension of Bodily Hurt

We lump together our domestic violence grounds, too. Typically, in order to actually get a divorce using these grounds, we have to prove physical or sexual abuse. There’s a difference, though, in what we would have to use to PROVE your divorce and what we need to file for divorce using those grounds.

Emotional abuse could be used to file for divorce. And, though I think you have a very, very small chance of actually proving it in trial, we can use it to get into court, to have a pendente lite hearing and get things you need — like temporary spousal and child support — established early on.

Desertion and Abandonment

Desertion and abandonment are usually taken together, too. Technically, one spouse could be guilty of desertion or abandonment if he left the marital residence without warning. It can also take the form of financial abandonment, if he left and withdrew any means of financial support (like, his paychecks were no longer direct deposited into the joint account).

You could be guilty of desertion, too, if you leave the home without warning.

How do you avoid this? We often recommend that, if you’re going to leave and its a mutual agreement, you get a writing in place that JUST states that one of you will move out, and that this will not constitute desertion and/or abandonment.

Don’t have a writing, or can’t get it? It’s probably (though not always) fine. Desertion and abandonment are the weakest fault based grounds, so probably not a lot will happen, even if he can prove that you deserted or abandoned the marriage. If you’re in an unsafe place, LEAVE. And, it probably goes without saying, but you should take the children with you when you go.

Felony Conviction

If your husband is convicted of a felony for which he could serve a year or more in prison, that’s also grounds for divorce.

Easy enough, right? Good.

No fault Divorce

A no fault divorce is based off of a period of separation. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have fault based grounds, just that you’ve made a decision to move forward with your divorce without regard for fault. In Virginia, you have to be separated for one year to get an uncontested, no fault divorce — or just six months if (1) you have a signed separation agreement, AND (2) you have no minor children.

While many of these things are a little more severe than buying the wrong kind of syrup, you’ll find that, whatever way you go, there are evidentiary requirements, as well as a number of advantages and disadvantages.

It’s always a good idea to talk to an attorney before making any big decisions. The route you take at the beginning of your divorce will have a definite impact on the amount of time your divorce takes, the money that it costs, and the difficulties you’ll face. It’s important to be strategic, and to consider the ins and outs before you make any emotional decisions that’ll cost you later on down the line, whether in dollars, blood pressure points, or days of parenting time with your children.

For more information, or to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

And, for goodness sake, buy Vermont maple syrup.

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