Grounds of Divorce in Virginia: What Constitutes Cruelty?

In Virginia, there are two general avenues by which one can obtain a divorce: No Fault or Fault Based. Both of those terms relate to the “grounds of divorce,” which is what you must prove in order for the court to grant a divorce.

There are five fault-based grounds for divorce: (1) Adultery, (2) Cruelty, (3) Desertion or Abandonment, (4) Sodomy or Buggery, and (5) Conviction of a Felony and Incarceration for One Year or More. See Virginia Code § 20-91(A). Of the fault-based grounds, the first three are the most commonly plead. A Virginia Circuit Court recently decided a case that interpreted what constitutes cruelty with respect to the grounds of divorce.

Generally, cruelty “that authorizes a divorce is anything that tends to bodily harm and thus renders cohabitation unsafe; or, as expressed in the older decisions, that involves danger of life, limb or health.” In this recent case, Wife claimed that the Husband was guilty of cruelty because he molested the parties’ daughters when they were children. The Circuit Court noted that there was no appellate case from Virginia that specifically held that cruelty towards children could constitute cruelty sufficient to authorize a divorce. The Court looked at other jurisdictions and “found that modern courts that have recognized this theory of cruelty have required the complaining spouse to demonstrate at least one of the following: (1) that the mistreatment was intended to injure her or him or (2) that the mistreatment actually affected her or his health or endangered her or his life.” The Court ultimately found that Wife failed to plead sufficient facts and her claim for a divorce based on cruelty was denied.

Determining which ground of divorce may be appropriate for you case can be a complicated process. If you have questions about fault-based grounds for divorce or divorce in general and need assistance from someone with intimate knowledge Virginia family law, please do not hesitate to contact our firm at 804-423-1382 or to schedule a one-on-one consultation with one of our experienced Virginia attorneys.