“Off With Her Head!” : Today, Women in Virginia have Option of No Fault Divorce

The good news for those who are perpetually unlucky in love is that divorce today is (relatively) easy, and (sort of) quick to obtain. At the risk of boring you with my enthusiasm for medieval British history, I’ll fast forward to the juicy bits.

Back in the 1520s, when Henry VIII wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, he tried to convince the Catholic Church to give him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, his wife of twenty years. In those days, there was no such thing as “no fault” divorce, so Henry had to have a reason to divorce her. Well, as luck would have it, Catherine was married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, first, and the Bible says “[i]f a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.” Well, they weren’t technically childless—Catherine gave us Mary Tudor, who later became known as “bloody Mary,” but Henry wanted sons, and Catherine hadn’t given him those. Catherine swore that Arthur had been sickly and they were never, to put it delicately, intimate. To put it less delicately, apparently Arthur made a comment to his servants on his wedding night that, “I have been this night in the midst of Spain!” Catherine, for her part, always vehemently denied that the marriage was consummated. When they were married that was good enough for Henry, but when Anne came around (by which time Catherine had gotten old by medieval standards), he started to question things. Long story short, Henry started his own church and was excommunicated by the Catholics (who ultimately refused to grant him a divorce), divorced Catherine himself, and married Anne.

When he wanted to divorce Anne (because, allegedly, she had adulterous and impure relations with her brother, George), he had her beheaded. Of course, we all know that this isn’t the end of the story—we all know that Henry had six wives, total, and beheaded two of them (Anne, and Catherine Howard, lucky lady number five). As it turns out, Catherine of Aragon was the lucky one—she was only banished.

Medieval history lesson: over.

These days, divorce is a much, much easier thing to obtain. Luckily for my clients, today it is generally frowned upon to behead your wife just because you want a new one.

Divorce today is available to everyone. If Henry VIII had lived in Virginia in the year 2012, he wouldn’t have needed to hold a full trial to determine whether Catherine had indeed fornicated with poor deceased Arthur—he could have said to hell with it all, returned her dowry as her separate property, and entered into a written and signed property settlement agreement dividing the marital assets, giving primary physical custody of their daughter to Catherine, and entering a no fault divorce.

Divorce law is different in every state, so it’s important to know the basics in your particular state. In Virginia, there are fault based grounds and no fault grounds. The fault-based grounds are simple, and mostly self-explanatory: sex based grounds (adultery, sodomy, buggery), felony conviction, cruelty, apprehension of bodily hurt, and desertion.

In some states, there’s a ground called “irreconcilable differences.” We hear about it often, because celebrities often file for divorce on this ground. (Think Kenny Chesney and Rene Zellweger, Marc Anthony and JLo, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, and Katy Perry and Russell Brand.) That’s not a ground in Virginia—we just use no fault. Most divorces today are no fault divorces. Why? Because in order to get one, you need to enter into a written and signed property settlement agreement and be separated without cohabitation for one year if you have minor children, or six months if you don’t have any minor children. Most importantly, the divorce is entered based on agreement of the parties—which is generally much more harmonious (and thousands and thousands of dollars less expensive) than a full-blown trial.

Under no fault, you can get divorced for any reason, good or bad, or no reason at all. You don’t even have to specifically state your reason—you just have to be separated without cohabitation for six months or one year (depending on whether you have minor children). Gone are the days when divorce required a papal dispensation (though your religious beliefs may still require you to govern yourself in a way that is different than what the law requires).

Take a deep breath and smile, because the many who came before you have paved the way to an easier, quicker, and bloodshed-less divorce. Lucky for you, there’s a solution to what ails you—and you don’t have to cut off anybody’s head.

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