In Virginia, the only venue willing to entertain Irreconcilable Differences1 might be the Beach Movie Bistro in Virginia Beach. This is because, popular as the little legal phrase is, it has no place in Virginia courtrooms. In this great state, you get divorced for either fault grounds, or no fault grounds. That’s right … you cannot claim “irreconcilable differences.”

Let’s All Go to the Lawyer: Fault vs. No Fault Divorce

No, it may not be as catchy as “Let’s All Go to the Lobby,” but you will not get anywhere by going to a lawyer and asking her or him to sue your soon-to-be ex-wife for “irreconcilable differences.” You two don’t get along? Separate for a year (half a year if you have no kids) and then file for divorce. You are all about retro black and white movies and she likes Technicolor? Tough; one of you has to do something really, really bad to get divorced on fault grounds, or move out and take it from there on no fault grounds.

The Previews: Know What Your Options Are for Divorce

When you actually speak with a good lawyer, your attorney will preview the available options for filing for divorce, and not once will your lawyer mention “irreconcilable differences,” unless the movie itself (Ryan O’Neal, Shelley Long, Drew Barrymore, 1984; six out of ten stars) comes up in conversation (and it won’t, okay?).

Grounds for fault divorce in Virginia include some fairly unpleasant things:

  • Adultery, or for sodomy or buggery outside marriage (Please, don’t ask. Just don’t. Really? Fine; you can look for yourself—we mean look in the law, here and here; not, you know, look)
  • Felony conviction
  • Cruelty, desertion or abandonment
  • Your spouse is insane (no, not in your opinion—according to the law, and you still have to wait that year or six months)

Just about the pleasantest way to file for divorce is by separating first. Live apart for one year (six months if you have no children) and then you can file. This is the no fault grounds for divorce. It is Virginia’s version of “irreconcilable differences.”

Now Playing: What’s Your Next Step?

The notion of irreconcilable differences comes not from whether you think Slumdog Millionaire deserved Best Picture in 2008 and your wife thinks The Curious Case of Benjamin Button should have won, but from deep, philosophical issues that do not play out in court:

  • In-Laws and extended family involvement
  • Balance between home and work
  • Sexual intimacy
  • Personal habits and idiosyncrasies
  • Outside friendships
  • Political views
  • Debt difficulties
  • Disciplining children

Not a single item on that list is, by itself, cause for divorce under Virginia law. You want butter on the popcorn and she doesn’t—you need to move out and wait it out, then file for divorce. She complains you spend too much time at the office, or you complain she’s run up the credit cards—you just have to work through it, do something monstrous (not a good idea!), or separate and then file.

The Main Attraction: Separating from Your Wife

The benefits of a no fault divorce in Virginia are that neither of you comes out appearing to be the bad apple. Since Virginia allows couples to live apart for the six months or year, the law assumes that, by separating, you were no longer compatible and not offering each other the typical attractions of a strong marriage. Separation before divorce is, by default, a way to show you did not get along (or had irreconcilable differences). Both of you agree to divide up property, amicably resolve the issues of child custody and support, and move on.

You may think you can be clever and live under the same roof but claim separation. You would have to prove this. The niceties of Virginia law (Title 20, Chapter 6, Section 20-91) require no “cohabitation and without interruption” for the year (or six months with no kids). This means the most innocuous actions can undermine your case:

  • Heating up a meal for your supposedly separated spouse
  • Buying groceries for your kids—and your wife
  • Cleaning up dishes for her
  • Giving her money for the movies
  • She ordering a pizza for you
  • The “accidental” roll in the hay

Any of these actions can be seen to violate the idea of living “separately.” Even if both you and your wannabe ex-wife agree to ignore all that, if something comes out at a hearing, the judge will rule you have not lived separately and can reset the clock, requiring a new waiting time of six months or a year.

Roll Credits: The Support You Need is a Phone Call Away

Your best way to learn about fault and no fault grounds for divorce in Virginia is to seek good legal counsel. Turn to The Firm for Men, by calling our offices at 757-383-9184, or contacting us online. We cannot take credit for best supporting actor in the role of a lawyer, of course, but we are credited with fighting for men going through divorce in Virginia for over a decade!


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