Separation Understanding the Difference Between Virginia and the District of Columbia

When a married couple decides to part ways, they may consider separation as a step towards divorce or as a way to live apart while remaining legally married. As discussed below, the laws governing separation and divorce in Virginia and the District of Columbia differ.

Separation for Divorce in Virginia

In Virginia, separation is a prerequisite for divorce. Couples must live separately and apart, without cohabitation, for a specified period before filing for divorce. You can read more about The required separation period depends on the grounds for divorce. For a no-fault divorce, couples must be separated for at least one year, or six months if they have no minor children and have signed a separation agreement. Some fault grounds divorce, such as cruelty or desertion, require a one year separation; however, the aggrieved party can file for a limited divorce (a divorce from bed and board) immediately. Other fault-based divorces, for instance adultery, do not require any separation. You can read more about the grounds for divorce in Virginia here. (link to Virginia divorce page)

During the separation period, the couple remains legally married. The separation itself does not legally end the marriage. The party can enter into a separation agreement to settle division of property, spousal support, and child custody and support. ou can read more about separation agreements here. (link to separation agreements)

Legal Separation in the District of Columbia

In Washington, D.C., a legal separation is a formal court order that outlines the rights and responsibilities of spouses who choose to live apart while remaining legally married. There is no required duration for a legal separation in the District of Columbia. Couples can remain legally separated indefinitely or proceed with a divorce later. A legal separation in Washington, DC does not terminate the marriage. The spouses remain legally married but live separately under the terms of the court order. A legal separation order can address property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. These terms are legally binding and enforceable by the court. If either spouse wants to convert the legal separation into a divorce, they must file a separate divorce case. The terms of the legal separation order may be incorporated into the final divorce decree. You can read more bout the grounds for divorce and separation in the District of Columbia here. (link to article)

Key Differences between Virginia and the District of Columbia

  1. Purpose: In Virginia, separation is a requirement for divorce, while in D.C., legal separation is an alternative to divorce for couples who wish to live apart but remain married. Most notably, the D.C. Superior Court can grant a legal separation. Virginia, on the other hand, has no legal separation. Instead, the parties must following the right steps to live separate and apart so they can later get a divorce.
  2. Legal Status: In both jurisdictions, the couple remains legally married during separation. However, in D.C., a legal separation is a formal court order, while in Virginia, separation is an informal arrangement.
  3. Duration: Virginia requires a specific separation period for no-fault divorce and some fault-based divorces. The District of Columbia has no minimum duration for legal separation or divorce.
  4. Enforceability: In Washington, D.C., the terms of a legal separation order are legally binding and enforceable by the court. If either party violates the order, the court can hold them in contempt and impose penalties. In Virginia, the enforceability of separation terms depends on the nature of the agreement. While some verbal agreements may be legally binding in Virginia, proving their terms can be challenging. It is wise have a
    written separation agreement. (link to separation agreements)However, a written separation agreement in Virginia is only enforceable as a contract between the parties until it is incorporated into the final divorce decree. Once incorporated, the terms become part of the court order and are enforceable through the court’s authority.

Speak to an experienced Separation and Divorce Lawyer to learn more.

When considering separation or divorce in Virginia or Washington, D.C., it is essential to consult with a local family law attorney for guidance about the laws and procedures applicable to you. If you are ready to get started or would like to get more information about a separation or divorce contact us here or call us at (703) 440-7820 to schedule an initial consultation with an experienced Washington, DC divorce attorney.

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