When you think of a married couple being “separated”, you probably envision one spouse moving out of the marital home. While that is the most straightforward way to separate, Virginia courts do recognize in-home separation as well. In-home separation occurs when the couple is still living in the same home, but each person is conducting his or her life as though they weren’t living together.
This is helpful to people because in most cases, and depending on the specific circumstances, Virginia requires a couple to be separated for one year or six months before they can file for divorce. Virginia requires a separation, or waiting period, in hopes that the couple will have enough time to work things out or, hopefully, reunite during that time. Waiting that long, however, can be difficult financially and sometimes even logistically. Therefore, many people elect to continue to live in the same home – but separately – so that they can avoid the expenses of maintaining two homes.
The question then becomes, how does the court know that the couple is separated if they are still living in the same house? While there is no formula, here is a checklist of some of the main facts the court would look at:
- Using separate bedrooms.
- Not engaging in marital relations.
- Not running errands for the other spouse (grocery shopping, dry cleaning, etc.).
- Not preparing food for the other spouse.
- Not sharing meals together (unless it is a holiday or event pertaining to the children).
- Not sharing chores (each spouse should be responsible for his or her own portion of the living space).
- Not doing laundry for the other spouse.
- Establishing separate checking accounts.
- Not socializing together (not going on dates together, not going to family reunions, social gatherings, or work events together).
- Not celebrating or exchanging gifts for special occasions.
- Letting other people know that you are separated.
- Having other people over to the house and making it clear that you are separated.
- No longer wearing wedding bands.
- No longer playing the role of the happy couple.
- At least one person deciding that the separation is permanent (not trying to work things out, not going to couples therapy, etc.).
- Note: If a couple has children (even if they are not minors), they are both still going to be parents regardless of whether they are separated. It is perfectly acceptable to continue to do things for the children such as attending sports events, concerts, and other special events for the children.
Again, there is no black and white rule, but all of these factors can add up to show either that the couple has been living separately or that they have not been. In order to ensure that couples are not saying that they were separated before they truly were, the courts require a third party witness to confirm that they know the couple and know for a fact that the couple was separated for the necessary period of time.
We at PJI Law have guided a large number of Virginians through a divorce when the couple was separated within the same home. Sometimes, the separation may not have been as “clean” as one would have wanted, but our experienced attorneys have seen countless such situations and are ready to advise on how to deal with them, and on helping our client achieve their goals.