“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” said Jonathan Swift (he of Gulliver’s Travels fame). That 1710 saying has morphed into “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.” One perfect example: the idea that a state like Virginia has “common law marriage.”
Virginia does not have this, despite what myths, legends, and word of mouth you might have heard. The concept exists in 10 other states, which means Virginia will recognize yours if you had such an arrangement elsewhere … even when it comes to common law divorce. Claiming, though, that you and your lady friend are husband and wife—simply because you say so—gets you nowhere in Virginia.
So, Which States Have Common Law Marriage?
If you and your female sidekick wish to mosey over to a state friendlier to common law marriage, go to one of these:
- District of Columbia
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
It’s too late to stake your claim in the other states that recognized it before now, such as Indiana. If you had established a common law marriage before 1958 in Indiana, Virginia would honor it. This is because all states honor other states’ marriage laws.
Each state still recognizing common law marriage has different requirements. If you are headed down the trail to Alabama, better make it quick: that state’s law changes January 1, 2017. Most states have age and kinship requirements:
- Minimum age
- Evidence you and your intended are unrelated
- Neither of you is married to someone else
- Neither of you is mentally unfit for marriage
In other words, if you think you can ride into the sunset with your half-wit 14-year-old niece all the way to Utah to tie the knot, think again, partner. Seriously, these requirements are common sense and were written for the good of the gene pool.
I’m the Law in These Parts: Getting Married in Virginia
Since Virginia is not a common law marriage state, you have to go through the right steps to join in matrimony. The Code of Virginia in its poetic, eloquently labeled Title 20, Chapter 2, Marriage Generally (now if that romantic label doesn’t set young hearts aflutter, nothing will!), says:
- You need a license (Section 20-13)
- The license can come from a clerk, deputy clerk or judge of a circuit court (Section 20-14)
- The license is good for 60 days (Section 20-14.1)
- The license will cost $20, $10 of which goes towards services for victims of domestic violence (Section 20-15)
- You get a couple of copies of the marriage certificate for your officiant to sign and send one back (Section 20-16)
The law has lots and lots of other pertinent parts, including one which goes against many a plot of your average sit-com, the “We’re not really married” trope. The Code of Virginia, Section 20-31 says if the two of you got hitched in good faith but the officiant turns out to be a fraud, a fake, a grifter, a flimflam man, you two are still legally married. Your children from the marriage are protected too, and can inherit from your estate even if your bonds of matrimony were bogus.
Common Law Divorce in an Uncommon Law State
No, “uncommon law” marriage is not the opposite of a common law marriage. No such term really exists. And, obviously, since 40 of the 50 states do not recognize common law marriage, it is not common, and common sense will tell you why. Common law marriage wreaks havoc with the normal course of everyday life. Two people simply stating that they are married undermines legal protections for their children, for one thing. It can make everything from credit cards to land titles messy. In a divorce from a common law marriage, everything is up for grabs, from the horse to the saddle to the horseshoes.
Virginia wants marriage and divorce to be neat, simple, and legal. Documents, court fees, taxes and the like help not only fund worthy state causes like fighting domestic violence, they also show planning and adherence to the kinds of behaviors a polite society, like Virginia, wants.
Since you have to be legally married to be legally divorced in Virginia, one of the first things you and your lawyer will do is pull together legal evidence of the marriage. Your marriage certificate, signed by your officiant, will do.
If you have questions about the legal validity of your marriage, whether you took the leap in Virginia or another state, contact The Firm for Men‘s divorce lawyers for men at 757-383-9184 to schedule an appointment with one of our legal experts. We can help with marriage, divorce, custody and more. We know the truth, and we always keep our shoes on, just in case we have to outrun the falsehoods.