For most people, the word “cruelty” is the start of a phrase or search leading to innocent animals. In Virginia, though, cruelty is a fundamental reason to get a divorce. Domestic violence is, by legal definition, a form of such cruelty. It is one of the “fault grounds” for divorce, but it does not accelerate the process.
Is Domestic Violence Cruelty?
In Virginia Code § 20-91, a divorce from the bond of matrimony can be granted as either an uncontested (no fault) or contested (fault) divorce. One of the fault grounds is stated plainly in § 20-91(6):
(6) Where either party has been guilty of cruelty, caused reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, or willfully deserted or abandoned the other, such divorce may be decreed to the innocent party after a period of one year from the date of such act;
Domestic violence is not, per se, defined in Code of Virginia, giving law enforcement some latitude to “know it when they see it,” but the Code provides some guidelines.
In § 16.1-228 “family abuse” is defined as “any act involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury and that is committed by a person against such person’s family or household member.” You, as a spouse, are a family member. Your wife can be charged with domestic violence.
In § 18.2-57.2, assault and battery against a family member can trigger a Class 1 misdemeanor and start the counter on crimes leading to a Class 6 felony. The advantage of a charge under § 18.2-57.2 is that it triggers an emergency protective order.
What is Reasonable Apprehension?
Legislators purposely leave some wording in laws up to the discretion of officers of the courts. This is because a law crafted, say, in 1958 must still have some relevance in 2018. So societal attitudes toward some behaviors change. If a prosecutor does not think a charge will “stick,” she or he may not pursue it. With a law laden with a phrase like “reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt,” the legislators provided an evergreen, or timeless, outline.
What is reasonable to you, a typical Virginia man? What is “reasonable” to a Virginia wife and mother? What is reasonable to your 12-year-old child? Your attorney is tasked with getting a judge (or, in some cases, a jury) to see that you held a reasonable apprehension — a fear — that your wife would hurt you again.
This means you must show a pattern of reckless, thoughtless, cruel behavior. She threw a waffle iron at you. She slammed a car door on your fingers. She tossed you out of the house on a cold winter’s night. She called you at work to say that she drained the bank account. She insulted you in front of friends.
Never overlook the many manifestations of cruelty:
- Sexual violence
- Mental cruelty
- Physical harm
Even neglect is a form of cruelty. She refused to wash your clothes despite you working two overtime shifts. She did not bother to buy groceries even though you said you needed lunches for work.
If you and your attorney can show a pattern of behavior in which you are fearful for yourself (or your children), you have a strong case to point to fault grounds for divorce.
Does Domestic Abuse Mean a Quicker Divorce?
Unfortunately, a charge of cruelty or domestic violence in a marriage does not accelerate the divorce calendar. It can trigger protective orders, it can hasten the separation agreement, and it can help you justify expenses for a second place to live, but it does not speed up the divorce calendar.
You can file for divorce immediately, based on one of the fault grounds, but you still must wait either six months (with no children) or a year (with children) for the divorce to become final.
Your attorney can use that time to make the case to your wife’s attorney that she really has no defense. Your attorney can accumulate pieces of evidence (police reports, arrest records, family member affidavits, medical records, financial records) that show a pattern of cruelty or even blatant domestic violence.
Contact the Domestic Violence Lawyers at The Firm For Men
A common challenge to overcome in Virginia is the sense that no man should cast himself as the victim of domestic violence. This is, of course, nonsense. The law exists to protect everyone equally, giving no advantage to one group (gender, ethnicity, economic level) over another.
Think of it this way: would you, if you had the power to stop it, allow your wife to harm your children? We hope not. You are your parents’ child. Would they, if they had the power to stop it, allow your wife to harm you?
If you have suffered any form of domestic violence, mental cruelty, or other abuse, please contact The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or contact us online. We listen, we plan, and together we form a strategy to protect you (and your kids, if needed) and defend your rights as a Virginia man. We can help you get protective orders, file for divorce, draw up separation agreements, and more.