Everything You Need to Know About Domestic Violence’s Effects on Divorce
*Content warning: discussion of domestic violence
Domestic violence may cause a divorce. Domestic violence can have a huge physical, emotional, and mental impact on parties involved, including children. Here’s how domestic violence affects divorce in Virginia.
In Virginia, divorce can be fault-based or not fault-based. Regardless of whether a divorce has a fault, a Virginia judge may decide certain divorce-related issues, like child custody, child support, alimony, based on an occurrence of domestic violence. In ongoing domestic violence cases, a temporary protection order may grant parties temporary child custody, child support, and alimony.
Related: Virginia Child Support FAQs
Divorce in Virginia
Virginia recognizes two kinds of divorce:
- Divorce from bed and board, and
- Divorce from the bond of matrimony.
A divorce from bed and board is a partial divorce. A judge can decide maintenance, property division, child custody, and other divorce-related issues, but the marriage does not terminate.
Parties are eligible to get a divorce from bed and board if a spouse has:
- Been cruel to their spouse,
- Caused their spouse to reasonably fear bodily harm,
- Willfully deserted their spouse, or
- Abandons their spouse.
A divorce from the bond of matrimony is a complete divorce that terminates a marriage. Virginia recognizes both fault and no-fault-based divorces to terminate a marriage completely.
No-Fault Based Divorce in Virginia
To get a no-fault based divorce in Virginia, parties must:
- Live separately without “cohabitating” for at least a year, or
- Enter into a separation agreement, share no children (biological or adopted), and live separately without “cohabitating” for at least six months.
Fault-Based Divorce in Virginia
To get a fault-based divorce in Virginia, a spouse must:
- Be guilty of cruelty, causing the filing spouse reasonable fear of bodily harm,
- Willfully desert or abandon a spouse for one year,
- Commit adultery, sodomy outside of the marriage, or a sexual act with an animal,* or
- Be convicted of a felony after marriage.**
* This is not a valid ground for divorce if a filing spouse continued to live with their spouse after finding out about the act, five years have passed since the spouse committed the act, or the spouse was convinced or coerced to commit the act by the filing spouse.
** For this ground to be valid, the spouse with a felony must be sentenced to prison for more than one year for said conviction, go to prison, and live separately after completing the prison sentence.
Domestic Violence in Virginia
Domestic violence refers to more than physical abuse in Virginia. In Virginia, domestic violence refers to an action by a family member involving violence, force, or threats that cause physical injury or reasonable fear of physical injury to an adult or child.
In situations where domestic violence is ongoing, a protective order may be a necessary tool to ensure the safety of spouses and their children. Parties can contact their local county courthouse to obtain a protective order form. A judge will grant a protective order if they determine that abuse has occurred and is likely to occur in the future.
How Domestic Violence Affects Divorce-Related Issues
Domestic violence may affect divorce-related issues in Virginia, including child custody, child support, or alimony. These issues are decided on a case-by-case basis by a Virginia judge.
How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Virginia
Virginia judges focus on the child’s best interest when deciding custody. While Virginia courts prefer physical and legal joint custody agreements, a judge may be influenced by a history of domestic violence to award one parent sole custody.
When Virginia judges decide on custody or visitation, they must consider any history of family abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, or an act of violence occurs within the past ten years. A history of any of these does not automatically deny custody.
Parties can ask a Virginia judge to prohibit an abusive parent from filing a petition for custody or visitation, for up to ten years. A will award the petition if they find it is in the child’s best interest and the abuser was convicted of any of the following against a child they lived with or their co-parent:
- Committing or attempting to commit murder or voluntary manslaughter,
- Felony assault resulting in serious physical injury, or
- Felony sexual assault.
Virginia law does not prevent an abusive parent from exercising visitation with their child. However, a history of domestic violence may impact a parent’s custody and visitation rights. An abusive parent can have restrictions placed on their visitation, like only participating in supervised visitation. In extreme cases, a judge can permanently terminate all parental rights of an abusive parent.
How Domestic Violence Affects Child Support in Virginia
Parties may receive a temporary child support order as a part of a protective order for family abuse. In Virginia, a judge decides any terms of a protective order depending on the facts of the case.
Alimony in a Virginia Divorce
Alimony, often referred to as spousal maintenance or support, one spouse pays financial support to the other. A Virginia judge may award alimony in periodic maintenance, a lump sum, or a combination of both.
Periodic maintenance is multiple payments over time, while a lump sum award is a one-time, complete payment. Alimony may last as much or little time as a Virginia judge decides.
How Domestic Violence Affects Alimony in Virginia
Virginia law requires judges to consider reasons for divorce, like domestic violence, when deciding alimony. This is because judges must consider the “circumstances and factors” of a divorce, which include the ground for divorce. A Virginia judge may rule in favor of or against alimony in specific cases based on the facts of the case.
FAQs about How Domestic Violence Affects Divorce in Virginia
Can I remarry after a divorce in Virginia?
In Virginia, parties who divorce from the bond of matrimony may remarry. Parties who divorce from bed and board cannot remarry because this divorce type does not end the marriage.
Are there residency requirements for divorce in Virginia?
Couples can file for divorce in Virginia if:
- One spouse has lived in Virginia for six months before the filing date, and
- One spouse currently lives in Virginia at the time of filing.
- Military couples may have different requirements for divorce in Virginia.