What Is a Contested Divorce in Virginia?

A contested divorce in Virginia can be one of the most painful experiences one faces in life.

Contested divorce in Virginia occurs when there is a source of fierce contention and dispute within the conditions of the divorce, or either one of the five grounds of a fault-based divorce is applicable to the relationship.

These five grounds are:

- Adultery
- Willful desertion
- Abandonment
- Criminal conviction with a sentence exceeding a certain period of time
- Cruelty

Note that each cause comes with numerous defenses, and must be proven in court. The person filing the complaint is generally referred to as the Plaintiff, and the person accused is referred to as the Defendant.
One of the most common causes of a fault-based divorce involves adultery. Virginia Legislation
demands ‘clear and convincing’ evidence as proof due to the fact that adultery is considered a felony (Class 4 misdemeanor). It is also the only grounds on which the responsibility to commit to alimony can be legally waived.

Additionally, it is one of the most financially demanding means of attaining a divorce due to the exhaustive level of circumstantial evidence needed to substantiate the claim, along with its heavy reliance on attorney services and numerous court hearings. Alimony is greatly affected if adultery is proven; if so is the case, the innocent can have their responsibility to alimony absolutely waived. Property division is only impacted if the guilty spouse spent marital equity in conducting their affair. In such cases, a greater portion of property may be distributed to the Plaintiff.

Willful desertion or abandonment in accordance to the laws of Virginia is when one spouse leaves the other for a minimum period of one continuous year while bearing ‘willful and malicious’ intent. For a case to be considered abandonment, numerous factors must be taken into account. For instance, a mother fleeing an abusive husband and her children out of fear and desperation is not considered abandonment. If reconciliation proves impossible, desertion can be grounds for a fault divorce. The main aspect of the divorce impacted by this involves the division of property. If the abandoning spouse is found guilty of using marital assets to fund their lifestyle while away, then a greater portion of property is given to the Plaintiff.

In some cases in Virginia, marriage can become liability on the life and welfare of either spouse, and in such cases, cruelty can be grounds for a fault-based divorce. Virginia strictly defines cruelty as any form of inflicted bodily harm that may endanger life, limb or health. One injury may be severe enough to warrant a divorce without the necessity of further harm to establish abuse as a regular behavior. While not directly defined, cruelty also covers psychological harm such as humiliation, coercive and abusive language, and malicious annoyances. Proof of the affliction, whether physical or psychological, must be provided and presented in court for a divorce to be decreed.

Finally, a divorce can be filed if one of the spouses has been charged of a criminal conviction, receiving a minimum of one year incarceration. Imprisonment can be a source of numerous complications, along with incurring more financiers such as the hiring of a Guardian ad Litem, and the costs of delivering documentation. In such cases, the Plaintiff (the spouse out of prison) must provide proof of their partner’s incarceration.

The approximate cost of a contested divorce generally fluctuates between $12,000 and $28,000. Costs greatly depend on which of the five grounds the divorce is being filed on, and in turn, the amount of evidence required. Additionally, the cost can double if children are involved in the divorce.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Atchuthan Sriskandarajah
Mr. Sris has helped numerous clients with contested divorces in Virginia.

Copyright SRIS Law Group, P.C.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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