This pamphlet discusses the legalities of marriage in Virginia, including name change, debt, property rights, insurance, powers of attorney, and support obligations and was created by the Virginia State Bar. This information is not intended to serve as legal advice to the reader. Before acting upon the information contained herein, you should consult with Richard P. Buzan or another attorney of your selection.
1. WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR A VALID MARRIAGE IN VIRGINIA?
•You must have a valid marriage license at the time the ceremony is performed. To obtain one, you and your fiancé must sign an application issued by the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the city or county where either of you usually lives. •After you have obtained a valid marriage license, your marriage ceremony must be performed within 60 days of the date your license is issued. A qualified minister, any judge, or a person appointed by the court can perform the ceremony. •You cannot legally marry a relative closer to you than a cousin, even if the relationship is by half-blood. You cannot marry your step- or adopted brother, sister, child, or parent, even if the adoption or step-relationship is by a previous marriage. •Virginia does not allow legal same-sex marriage or give any official status to such relationships.
2. HOW OLD MUST YOU BE TO GET MARRIED?
The consent of your parent or guardian is needed if you are a minor (under 18) unless you have been married before. The minimum age at which you can marry, even with consent, is 16 (except in the case of pregnancy, verified by a doctor's certificate).
If you are a minor and you misrepresent your age and marry without the consent of your parent or guardian, then your parent or guardian may ask a court to annul the marriage. The judge then will decide whether, considering all the circumstances, it is in your best interest to annul the marriage or to declare it valid.
3. DOES VIRGINIA HAVE "COMMON LAW MARRIAGES?"
No. A common law marriage is one by agreement of two people who consider themselves married without any formal ceremony or license. Such arrangements are not marriages in Virginia, but they will be recognized here if they were valid in the state where they took place and if they were between people who would have been eligible to marry under Virginia law.
4. WHAT ARE THE LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS IN MARRIAGE?
A. Name Change
Upon marriage, the wife has the option of assuming the husband's last name and traditionally does so, but she is not legally required to change her name. She may keep her name as it was at the time of the marriage without any formal legal proceedings. However, if she has assumed her husband's surname and wants to resume an earlier name, she must petition the circuit court of the city or county where she lives for a legal name change. (A woman may resume her maiden name or prior married name as part of a divorce proceeding).
Similarly, a wife can assume a combined or hyphenated surname upon marriage without any formal legal proceeding. However, if the husband wants to do so, it is probably best if he petitions for a legal name change.
In order to keep records straight, any name change should be communicated to all government agencies that might be affected, such as the Social Security Administration and the Department of Motor Vehicles. Further, you should notify your bank, insurance companies, employers, and others of your change in name and marital status.
B. Property Considerations
Marriage does not automatically put the spouses' property in both of their names. However, most property and pensions acquired during the marriage, except for inheritances and gifts from other people, are treated as both spouses' property in the event of a divorce. State and federal laws give married people many different rights in each other's property, pensions and insurance in the event of divorce or death. However, if you choose to put property solely in your spouse's name, or to title your pre-marital property in both names, that may diminish your legal right to it upon divorce.
It is possible for the spouses to change or give up the rights they obtain in each other's property by reason of their marriage through a written agreement, such as a prenuptial (or premarital) agreement. (See "Premarital Agreements" below.)
Marriage does not automatically make one spouse responsible for the individual debts of the other if the spouses did not co-sign the loans or credit card applications. However, a spouse may become liable to a third person for the cost of any basic necessities provided to the other spouse by the third person. If you and your spouse incur debts together, the creditor can usually sue either one of you for the entire amount. In a divorce, the judge will divide the debts between the spouses, not always equally. Sometimes this will include some debts that are only in one spouse's name.
All insurance companies that may be affected by your change in status should be notified immediately. In addition, consider changing the beneficiaries of your life insurance policies. Automobile insurance rates may change favorably for you, and both spouses can be named as insured on the same policy. Combining hospitalization coverage can also save money, especially if one of you is covered by a group policy. An insurance agent can be helpful in advising you about what should be done with existing coverage and what additional coverage, if any, should be obtained.
E. Powers of Attorney
You may desire to give your spouse the power to act on your behalf in the event that you become incapable of handling your own affairs due to accident, sickness, or distant travel. Without a power of attorney, your spouse may be powerless to make decisions on your behalf. A power of attorney can avoid the need to petition the court for the appointment of a guardian for the disabled spouse.
Powers of attorney can be designed to only be effective when certain specified conditions exist. The person granting a power of attorney can revoke the power at any time, so long as he or she is mentally competent. You should consult your attorney to determine whether a power of attorney would be appropriate in your case, and if so, what the scope of such power should be.
F. Support Obligations
In marriage, circumstances may arise in which one of you might become obligated to support the other. Both of you should be aware of this as you establish your respective roles in the marital relationship. Usually the question of this support obligation only arises upon separation or divorce, and at that time the court will look to the history of the marriage as well to who was at fault in its breakdown. Although alimony is no longer awarded to the wife as commonly as it once was, if either of you has been placed in a financially dependent position by the marriage, the partner with the earning power or financial means may be ordered to contribute to the support of the financially dependent partner. Therefore, even though a marriage must be built on faith, both husband and wife should closely examine the plans for each of their respective roles in the marriage and the possible consequences of this arrangement in the event of separation or divorce.
G. Wills and Estate Planning
It is never too early to write a will. Even though you may be young or have few assets, it is wise to consult a lawyer about estate planning. It is not how much you have but where you want your property to pass upon your death that is important. Proper estate planning helps protect your family from unnecessary financial hardships that might occur after your death.
If you die without a will, your entire estate will pass to your spouse unless you have children by a previous marriage. If both you and your spouse die without a will, your underage children's share of your estate could be tied up in guardianship and might not be readily available for support and education.
If you had a will before marriage, it is important that it be reviewed in light of your changed status.
The material appearing in this web site is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Transmission of this information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements, certification, specialization, or self-proclaimed expertise. Before you decide, ask us to send you free information about our qualifications and experience. The information provided herein is intended only as general information which may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. This web site is not intended to be advertising and we do not wish to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this web site in a state where this web site fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state.
Any links to other web sites are not intended to be referrals or endorsements of these sites. The links provided are maintained by their respective organizations and they are solely responsible for the content of their own sites.
If you communicate with us through this web site or otherwise in connection with a matter for which we do not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged or confidential. If you communicate with us by e-mail in connection with a matter for which we already represent you, please remember that Internet e-mail is not secure and you should avoid sending sensitive or confidential messages unless they are adequately encrypted.