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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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What Constitutes Cruelty in Virginia for a Divorce?


If you are filing for an at-fault divorce in Virginia, it has to be under one of the approved grounds. One of these grounds is cruelty. Cruelty can have different meanings to different people. Unfortunately, not everything you may believe is cruel would qualify under the legal theory used to grant an at-fault divorce.

When you plead cruelty, the court will be looking for particular and specific behaviors to grant a divorce. Plenty of people will file for divorce using the grounds of cruelty, but it doesn’t mean that the court will grant it.

Sometimes it’s easier to just follow the no-fault process of divorce, even in situations where someone is at fault. In many cases, even couples who file an at-fault divorce end up having it finalized on no-fault grounds anyway.

What is Cruelty?

No one should have to endure repeated incidents of violent behavior just to satisfy the grounds for divorce, but Virginia law unfortunately generally requires more than one incident to prove cruelty. If you proceed with a divorce based on cruelty, it should typically involve behavior that leads to bodily harm and therefore makes continuing to live together unsafe. Anything that involves a threat to your health, limb, or life can constitute cruelty. You should have proof of one or more instances where there were physical altercations. One is enough, if it is extremely serious and life threatening.

Cruelty isn’t just about physically harming your spouse, either. Abusive language, malicious annoyances, or humiliation are some of the other actions that can qualify. Emotional abuse is something that no one should have to endure. Emotional abuse can lead to depression, anxiety, weight loss, or other problems. Courts are likely to grant someone a divorce on the grounds of cruelty when these issues exist. A spouse who constantly humiliates their spouse and/or shows coldness or indifference may qualify as well.

However, cruelty isn’t just an occasional rude comment or getting angry once in a while. It may not qualify as cruelty if it does not put the spouse at risk for bodily harm.

It is important to note that adultery by a spouse that exposes the other spouse to potential STDs could be considered cruelty by a Virginia court as well.

Proving Cruelty in Virginia

Like other at-fault grounds for divorce, you must show evidence that supports your claim. And, the evidence needs to be corroborated by a third party. This may be a police officer who responded to a call or someone who can testify in court as to the nature and severity of your injuries. Other helpful evidence can include photographs, hospital records, and police report(s) filed against your ex.

Retaining a Virginia Divorce Attorney

If you are contemplating filing divorce using cruelty as the reason, it’s important to retain a Virginia divorce attorney who has experience with domestic violence cases since most cruelty divorce matters involve domestic violence. Therefore, it’s imperative to choose someone who can give you proper legal advice. At Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC, we have years of experience handling family law matters in Virginia, including at-fault divorces. Contact our office today at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled Virginia family law attorneys.


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