What is a legal separation in Virginia? The concept of “legal separation” indicates that two spouses have entered into a court-sanctioned agreement that dictates their various responsibilities and obligations while living apart, presumably while they transition into an official divorce.
In states which grant legal separations, a couple can obtain a legal separation. This may happen regardless of why they are choosing to end their marriage. A legal separation can settle matters such as child support, alimony, and custody agreements. This is how legal separation differs from a simple separation. In Virginia, separation occurs when one spouse leaves the marital home with no intention to return.
Unlike many other states, Virginia courts do not grant legal separations. Despite this, there are plenty of other ways similar to a legal separation. These methods provide the protection needed for yourself, your children, and your assets as you and your spouse progress towards divorce.
Legal Separation in Virginia: No-Fault Divorces
Virginia’s domestic relations laws will allow for a no-fault divorce on one of two grounds:
- Separation for one year, or
- Separation for six months with a separation agreement, and no minor children
For these no-fault cases, there is no official way of establishing a separation. The one-year or six-month clock starts ticking on day one of the spouses deciding the marriage was over and communicates that to their spouse.
Typically, this communication will take place in a verbal conversation. In this case, you always want the date in writing, in case it is contested later on in the divorce process. Generally, the courts label any income earned, any property purchased, or debt accrued after a separation occurred separate property in Virginia. The exact date of your separation has a significant bearing on what is considered separate property.
At the final hearing for your divorce, you will likely need to produce evidence of your separation. This happens with a witness such as a family member or close friend to corroborate.
With regard to separation, Virginia courts will look at things like if:
- You and your spouse have continued sharing certain living spaces such as a bedroom or a closet
- The couple attended events not related to any of your children together
- Taking meals together or preparing meals for each other continues as a couple
When any of these occurred during the alleged time of separation, it could push your possible date for an absolute divorce back.
Legal Separation in Virginia: Fault-Based Divorces
Laws surrounding separation are a bit more structured in Virginia with regard to fault-based divorces. Virginia offers multiple fault-based grounds for divorce, but adultery, desertion, and cruelty seem to hold the title for faults in Virginia.
If any grounds for divorce exist, the spouse not at fault can file for what is called a divorce from bed and board. In a divorce filed from bed and board, neither party can remarry or legally engage in a sexual relationship with another person.
Many people choose to file for a divorce from bed and board during their year or six months of separation. It enables them to begin dealing with the division of property and custody matters. By the time the final hearing arrives, the separated couple has taken care of all of the actual divorce proceedings
A type of divorce known as a divorce from the bonds of matrimony is a final and absolute divorce. And it will not be granted unless there has been at least one year of established separation.
Pendente Lite in Virginia
Once a complaint for divorce has been filed, either spouse can file for a form of relief called “pendente lite”. This may happen regardless if the divorce is filed from bed and board or from the bond of matrimony This form of relief is temporary relief contingent on the final resolution of the divorce. Different types of relief that fall under pendente lite are temporary custody orders, or temporary child or spousal support. Pendente lite also includes injunctions against harassment or a waste of marital assets. Pendente lite relief ordered by the court during a divorce from bed and board, or any type of separation in Virginia, will generally remain in place until the final hearing.
At the time of final hearing, if one year of separation has passed, Virginia courts will grant a final and absolute divorce. For more information, check out our post: 10 Things Not to do When You Get a Divorce.
Legal Separation in Virginia: Separate Maintenance
In some cases, like with certain religions that prohibit divorce, grounds for divorce reside. However, neither party wishes to get actually get divorced. In this case, separate maintenance is a feasible alternative. This is a statute that enables Virginia courts to make rulings on custody and visitation matters. The courts can also rule on spousal and child support.
However, separate maintenance does not allow courts in Virginia to divide marital property. Because of this, if your case involves large amounts of property, separate maintenance may not be feasible.
Relief in Virginia Juvenile Court
In cases of separation in Virginia, whether or not there are fault-based grounds, Virginia’s juvenile and domestic relief courts, also known as J&DR courts, can make rulings on matters of custody, visitation, and child or spousal support.
However, oftentimes it is easier to seek relief first from circuit courts. This is due to the fact that decisions made in J&DR courts can be appealed in circuit courts, and jurisdiction can be moved from a J&DR court to a circuit court if either spouse decided to file for divorce on fault grounds, or after one year of separation has elapsed. For this reason, most attorneys begin in circuit court to keep costs to their clients as low as possible.
Separation Agreements in Virginia
.The closest a couple can get to what is known as a legal separation in Virginia is what is known as a separation agreement
Any couple in Virginia who wishes to begin working towards divorce can enter into a separation agreement. The separation agreement is a binding legal document that outlines the distribution of property, child or spousal support. It also states each spouse’s intentions to live separate and apart. Creating a separation agreement rather than fighting out each individual issue in court can save plenty of time and money. It can also save the emotional hardship on a family.
An attorney can help you draw up an appropriate Virginia separation agreement prior to any physical, official separation. That separation agreement will then become the ruling document until the final divorce resolution.
If you’re engaged, and want to look into information to avoid the whole process, look at: What is a Prenuptial Agreement.
Contact the Manassas Law Group Today!
If you are struggling with a divorce or a separation in Virginia, or if you have questions about legal separations in Virginia, send us a message to arrange a consultation, or call us at the Manassas Law Group at 703-361-8246.