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Cruelty and Divorce in Virginia

Cruelty is a commonly used ground for divorce in the state of Virginia. This webpage provides an overview of cruelty in Virginia divorce, its legal implications, and the process involved.

Understanding Cruelty in Virginia Divorce

Definition of Cruelty: Acts of physical violence and conduct that endanger the life, safety, or health of one’s spouse will constitute cruelty. Abusive language, humiliating statements, and repeated neglect can also constitute cruelty. While cruelty is typically proven by evidence of a succession of acts, a single act of cruelty is sufficient if it is a very serious act. A spouse’s abuse of alcohol does not constitute cruelty unless it is coupled with other misconduct. 

Fault-Based Divorce:  Cruelty is a legal ground for divorce in Virginia.  In order for a divorce to be granted on the basis of desertion:

  • The cruelty must be corroborated by some evidence other than the admission of the spouse who committed the desertion 
  • The other spouse must not have consented to the cruelty (see below under defenses
  • The other spouse must not have provoked the cruelty
  • There must not have been recrimination (see below under defenses)

If cruelty exists, a divorce can be filed immediately with no need to wait either six months or a year. 

Legal Implications of Adultery in Virginia Divorce

Effect on Property Division: While Virginia is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property is divided fairly but not necessarily equally, a spouse’s cruelty may be taken into consideration when determining how assets and debts should be divided. Courts especially look at the economic effect the cruelty had on the other spouse. 

Effect on Spousal Support/Alimony: Virginia law requires that, in determining whether a spouse should receive spousal support, courts must consider the causes of the dissolution of the marriage.  If cruelty is what caused the dissolution of the marriage, then the court will factor the cruelty into its spousal support decision.     

Child Custody and Visitation: In child custody and visitation matters, the court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child. Cruelty, by itself, is generally not a determining factor in custody decisions. However, if the cruelty had a detrimental effect on the child or disrupts the child’s well-being, it could be considered by the court when making custody determinations.  

Defenses Against Cruelty: Virginia law provides several defenses to a charge of desertion.  These include:

  • Justification.  Justification simply means a legitimate reason for the action or statement.    
  • Condonation.  If the spouses continue living together, after the cruelty occured, the cruelty may be found to have been “condoned” or forgiven.  
  • Recrimination.  If both spouses are guilty of fault (adultery, desertion, cruelty) then the faults “cancel each other out.” 
Charlottesville Divorce Lawyers and Attorneys

Our Experience

Our divorce lawyers have handled hundreds of family law cases. The firm’s lawyers also have over a decade of business law experience, which gives us a unique advantage if either parent is self-employed or there are questions about business income or taxes. We have edited premier legal journals and have authored scholarly pieces for law reviews.  We have been retained by other lawyers specifically for the purpose of using our experience to assist them. Our lawyers are also frequent lecturers on family law matters.

Contact a Charlottesville Divorce Lawyer

Desertion can be a significant factor in divorce cases in Virginia. Understanding its legal implications and the process involved is crucial for individuals facing or contemplating divorce based on this ground. Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney can provide valuable guidance and assistance throughout the divorce proceedings. If you need help with a divorce please call us at (434) 972-9600 or contact us using the form below.

Please note that the use of our contact form does not create an attorney-client relationship and therefore there is no attorney-client protection for the information you choose to submit to us.  As such, please do not submit any confidential or privileged information in the contact form.

We are located in Charlottesville, but our lawyers handle cases in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Greene County, Fluvanna County, Louisa County, Nelson County, Madison County, Orange County, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, Augusta County, and across Virginia.

Davidson & Kitzmann, PLC
413 7th ST NE
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Phone:  (434) 972-9600
Fax:  (434) 220-0011

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