In the Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera1, 15 adults squeeze into an ocean liner’s cabin. Besides the four Marx Brothers, two chamber maids, a manicurist, ship’s engineer and assistant, a woman with a mop, four waiters and a fellow passenger crowd into a space slightly bigger than a walk-in closet. Watch it. It is instructional for the awkwardness you will feel if you legally separate from your wife but continue to live in the same house.

The Definition of Separate, according to the Code of Virginia

If you are economically pressed and simply must live together under the same roof, you can do so legally, with conditions. In Virginia, the two of you must “have lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year.”

If the two of you have children, you can get your divorce after a one-year separation. The Code of Virginia does not say separate as in a different county, town or house, it only says separate, apart, without cohabitation and without interruption.

What If Finances Prevent Me From Moving Out?

One of the world’s smallest apartments2 is a 78-square-foot gem in New York City. It costs $700 a month to rent. Before you scoff and say, “New York prices,” remember Virginia has some of the country’s most expensive real estate. A couple may genuinely be stuck living under the same roof even while going through a half-year or full-year separation prior to divorce.

Very few couples divorce because money is plentiful. Money, or the lack of it, is often one of the stressors that pushes a couple apart. If your checkbook is tiny, you may have to live together to make the divorce possible.

Legal Precedent for Separation

You can thank Marja Bchara for this Virginia legal precedent. On January 22, 2000, Marja discovered a sex tape her husband, Adnan, made with a woman who was not Marja. Marja did the right thing, legally: She moved Adnan’s possessions into the guest bedroom, and from that day on made clear that she was separating herself from him.

He fought the divorce, claiming she had not done enough to be separated while the two were under the same roof. He said she still cooked food he ate, cleaned the house, bought groceries, and accepted Mother’s Day flowers from him in their son’s name that year.

Adnan was pushing back (unsuccessfully) against judges’ legal interpretations of the Code of Virginia. Separation has some basic requirements:

  • No sexual intercourse (apparently Marja and Adnan had let that part of their marriage end some time before 2000)
  • Neither party doing anything for the other (She bought groceries for herself and her son; she cleaned because she lived there, too; she cooked because she and her son had to eat)
  • Stop attending family events (Marja stopped going to church with Adnan and stopped attending family functions)
  • Keeping financial accounts separate (Marja stopped depositing money into their joint account)

How to Remain “Separate” While Living Under the Same Roof

In Bchara V. Bchara Marja may have been winging it, and admittedly she stumbled a bit here and there, but she did most things right. If you absolutely must live under the same roof with the woman you want to divorce, set up some parameters:

  • Remove your wedding ring
  • Have absolutely nothing to do with your wife sexually, romantically or affectionately
  • Use a separate entrance to your home
  • Shop for, cook and eat your own food
  • Use nothing — nothing — of hers (no toiletries, laundry soap, toilet paper, computer, car, cable television, postage stamps — nothing!)
  • Make known (to family, friends, neighbors) your intention to be separate, and repeat it frequently
  • Invite third parties over regularly to verify that the two of you are separate though living under the same roof, including using separate bedrooms and, if possible, kitchen and bath space
  • Separate your finances
  • Do nothing socially, religiously or domestically together (except for holidays and your children’s special events)
  • Give absolutely nothing to her (this sounds really cold but offer no gift, money, service such as changing the car oil, greeting card, gift certificate or use of a joint charge card throughout the separation)

If you establish a pattern, backed up by independent witnesses, that you consider yourself separate from your wife, you can establish to the court’s satisfaction that you intend to divorce her.

Who Can Serve as a Good Witness to Your Separation?

Selecting a single witness is not as strong as having several, presumably unbiased, people confirm your method of getting through the separation time. Family members are less credible than someone from a club, organization or religious group you may know.

Awkward as it is, you have to ask these third parties to note the date they visit so, if needed, they can recall later exactly what they saw, using what lawyers call “refreshing the memory” through a journal or notes:

“I wrote in my diary that I saw Kristen’s things were in one side of the house, and Tristan’s things were in his tiny, cramped bedroom. Tristan came and went through the garage, while Kristen used the front door. Tristan had a hot plate and a dorm refrigerator while Kristen used the kitchen. Kristen used the house’s washer and dryer while Tristan took his wash to the laundromat.” 

Contact the Separation Lawyers for Men!

Navigating your way through the legal requirements to establish separation can be challenging. Contact us at The Firm for Men, or telephone our offices at (757) 383-9184 to be connected to an attorney. We are ready to help you with separation, divorce, custody and more.


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