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Virginia Family Law: Divorce vs. Annulment


Virginia family law establishes two major routes for ending a marriage — divorce and annulment. Depending on the circumstances, a married couple might qualify for temporary or permanent divorce. In narrowly defined cases, an annulment to effectively cancel the marriage might be appropriate.

Limited Divorce (Bed & Board)

Referred to legally as a divorce from bed and board in Virginia, a limited divorce is essentially legal separation. The court grants a temporary divorce, typically cases of unfortunate circumstances. This divorce is effective for most purposes: the spouses live separately, may file for alimony and child custody, and have few responsibilities to their partner.

Limited divorce is different from absolute divorce (see below) because it is installed by the courts, rather than by mutual agreement between spouses. It may be entered into before the six-month or one-year mark for no-fault divorce. The parties, however, may not remarry under limited divorce. They are legally still married.

Under Code of Virginia Section 20-95, the acceptable reasons for requesting a limited divorce include:

  • Cruelty;
  • Reasonable Fear of Harm;
  • Willful Desertion; or
  • Abandonment.

In this context, victims of domestic violence generally qualify for limited divorce under cruelty or reasonable fear of harm. Ultimately, the Virginia state courts will do everything possible to shield victims of domestic violence from further harm or injury.

Absolute Divorce (Bond of Matrimony)

Referred to legally as a divorce from bond of matrimony in Virginia, an absolute divorce is permanent. Virginia law provides for two types of absolute divorces — at-fault and no-fault.

Under Code of Virginia Section 20-91, the acceptable reasons for requesting an at-fault, absolute divorce include:

  • Adultery;
  • Sodomy or Buggery;
  • Felony Conviction;
  • Cruel Treatment;
  • Willful Desertion; or
  • Abandonment.

Section 20-91 also provides the relevant considerations for no-fault, absolute divorces. In these situations, the spouses reach a mutual agreement to separate and, eventually, end their marriage. In these situations, the spouses will typically execute a martial separation agreement or similar document to govern the terms of their divorce.

For a no-fault, absolute divorce, Section 20-91 requires a married couple to live separately for a minimum of:

  • Six Months — If there is a marital separation agreement and an absence of any minor children; or
  • One Year — If there are any minor children involved, even adopted children.


Annulment is a completely different process from divorce in Virginia. Whereas divorce is commonly available to most spouses seeking to end their marriage, annulment is reserved for specific situations.

Virginia family law only allows annulment for marriages that were improper or invalid from the beginning. In other words, the couple in question should not have been allowed to marry in the first place. As a result, Virginia state law deems that marriage invalid and, effectively, voids any marital duties or responsibilities.

Under Code of Virginia Section 20-89.1, the acceptable reasons for requesting an annulment include:

  • The marriage license was improper, incorrect, or missing;
  • One person used fraud or duress to force the marriage without consent;
  • The spouses were siblings or other closely related family members; or
  • One person was still married to another spouse at the time.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you need legal help with divorce or annulment under Virginia law, it can be exceedingly worthwhile to contact an experienced Leesburg family & divorce lawyer. The lawyers at Simms Showers LLP have more than 140 years of combined legal experience, including family law matters like divorce or annulment. If you need legal help with family law, contact us today for an initial consultation.

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