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Virginia Legal Separation
Legal Separation in Virginia

According to the Code of Virginia, Section 20-95, [a] divorce from bed and board may be decreed for cruelty, reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, willful desertion or abandonment. Unlike many other states, Virginia does not grant Legal Separations. Courts grant (a) "bed and board divorces" granted by the Circuit Court, and (b) orders saying which party gets to have exclusive use of the couple's home, often granted at the same time as initial temporary support orders. "Separation" in Virginia, also known as "living apart," begins when a couple stops living together as husband and wife. When this happens, the couple is separated, even if they have not yet signed a Separation Agreement.

Separation Agreements provide that when there is a divorce decree or other court order, the Agreement will be "affirmed, ratified and incorporated but not merged" in that court order. This means that the Separation Agreement can be enforced later in the courts as a contract, but it will also be part of a court order that can be enforced through contempt-of-court proceedings. Decisions involving the children can always be changed based on the childs best interest.

Reconciliation voids a separation agreement unless it includes a provision that says it will remain in effect after reconciliation. Reconciliation, however, negates any grounds for divorce based on the earlier separation or desertion.

Similar to legal separation in other jurisdictions, a limited divorce, also called a "divorce a mensa et thoro" or a "divorce from bed and board," is uncommon and mostly used when people want to be legally separated but have religious objections to divorce. Sometimes people file for them while waiting to get grounds for a regular divorce. Limited divorce can be attractive, however, in a limited divorce, the spouses are not permitted to remarry; a limited divorce stops short of a full divorce but still effects what the plaintiff needs in the way of support and a property settlement.

Divorcing couples sometimes try to reduce the costs associated with a divorce with an in-house separation. Virginia divorce law permits couples to reside in the same house during a separation - otherwise known as an in-home separation. This requires that the couple refrain from any sexual contact with each other, sleep in separate beds and rooms, use separate food and house supplies, and abstain from shared social activities. Couples need to treat one another as roommates involved in a formal living situation.

Couples who voluntarily separate in anticipation of a Virginia divorce must make that clear to the court.

Separation Agreements, also known as Property Settlement Agreements, are legal contracts that both spouses sign. In an ordinary divorce case or in a "bed and board divorce," these agreements stipulate custody, support, property division, debt and other issues that would otherwise be decided by a judge as part of the divorce. Most Separation Agreements deal with all of these issues. A Separation Agreement can even stipulate that the divorce will be on no-fault grounds.

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this or they decide to prepare their own.


The plaintiff files for a limited divorce in the circuit court of the city or the county where either he or she or the defendant lives.


In order to file for a limited divorce (or any divorce) in Virginia, the plaintiff must meet the residency requirement, and he or she must have one of the four following grounds: cruelty, willful desertions, abandonment and reasonable apprehension of bodily harm.


To meet the residency requirement, a party must be living in Virginia at the time of the divorce filing and have lived there for six months previously.

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