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  • John C. Whitbeck, Jr.


    John C. Whitbeck, Jr. practices in the following areas of law: Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Mediation, Arbitration, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, All Felonies, All Misdemeanors, Juvenile Crimes, Mental Health Law, Civil and Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Education Law, Election Law, Debt Collection, Consumer and Lemon Law.

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  • Ruth M. McElroy


    Ruth M. McElroy practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Pre and Post Marital Agreements, Domestic Violence, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Juvenile Crimes, Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes, Traffic Offenses, Debt Collection, Civil and Business Litigation. She serves the Virginia Court system as a Guardian ad litem.

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  • Jennifer D. Cisneros


    Jennifer D. Cisneros practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Crimes, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Estate Planning, Wills and Probate, Trusts, Civil and Business Litigation and Debt Collection.

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Is there a Difference Between Separation and Divorce in Virginia?


Is there a difference between separation and divorce in the state of Virginia? Yes, there is a major difference. Separation is one of the more misunderstood terms in the arena of family law and divorce. People use the word “separated” to mean legally separated, when it in most cases they aren’t really separated. Unlike some other states, Virginia doesn’t have any formal status for declaring legal separation when neither party has any fault for the end of the marriage.

In some instances, divorce and/or separation in Virginia can be complex. It’s important to contact a Virginia divorce attorney to discuss your particular situation to determine the right course of action.

In the meantime, here is an introduction to the differences between separation, including legal separation, and divorce.

Legal Separation and No-Fault Divorce in Virginia

Marriages can break apart, and there is sometimes no one person you can point the finger at. Virginia will allow you to file for a no-fault divorce if you meet the following criteria:

  • You must live separately away from your spouse for one year consecutively; or
  • You must live separately away from your spouse for six consecutive months, draft a separation agreement, and you cannot have any minor children together.

Since there is no formal status for legal separation in no-fault cases, you can terminate the marriage by entering into a “separation agreement” where both spouses sign and date the agreement stating they want to permanently end the marriage. This agreement will address issues like debt responsibilities, child custody, property division, and support.

Legal Separation and Fault-Based Divorce in Virginia

If one spouse wants to get a divorce and claims adultery, cruelty, desertion, or another fault-based reason, the law will allow either party to file a motion for something called “pendente lite” relief. This is temporary as you push towards the divorce and will grant you the legal separation status. This will establish important factors like:

  • Spousal or child support
  • Child custody and visitation rights
  • Shared debt contributions
  • Exclusive use of the marital home
  • Injunctions to prevent harassment or wasting of marital assets

The issues decided in this phase will usually stay in place until there is a final divorce that takes place one year from the separation date.

Why Would a Couple Choose to Remain Separated Rather Than Divorce?

Some couples opt to remain separated and do not pursue the formal divorce. One of the main reasons a couple stays married, but is separated, is due to religion. Often times moral or religious reasons keep someone from wanting to finalize the divorce. Another reason couples may not divorce has to do with benefits, like health insurance, tax deductions, or Social Security.

Retaining a Virginia Divorce Attorney

If you have questions about divorce or separation in Virginia, it’s important to speak with a skilled Virginia family law attorney. Every situation is different, and you need to make sure you are doing things correctly if you plan to seek a divorce. If you miss a step in the separation process, it could mean when you go to file for divorce, you find yourself starting over. Contact the skilled attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC today at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation.


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