Common Law in Virginia: A Complete Guide

In an age when traditional marriage and domestic partnerships have evolved to encompass a variety of arrangements, it’s essential to understand how different legal concepts apply to diverse circumstances. A topic that often raises questions is Virginia common law marriage. This article aims to unravel the intricacies of common law in Virginia, exploring its implications on unmarried couples, domestic partnerships, the legality of various relationship dynamics, and more.

Do Unmarried Couples Have Rights in Virginia


What is Virginia Common Law?

Virginia common law refers to legal principles developed through court decisions rather than statutory law. However, when it comes to marriage, the term ‘common law marriage’ is often misunderstood. The truth is, Virginia does not recognize common law marriage. For a marriage to be considered legal in Virginia, it must be solemnized by an authorized person or through a civil ceremony. This goes against the widespread belief of common law marriage, where couples who live together for a certain period are considered legally married without a formal ceremony.Legal Age in Virginia

Do Unmarried Couples Have Rights in Virginia?

While Virginia doesn’t acknowledge common law marriage, unmarried couples residing together often referred to as cohabitation – do have some rights. For example, they can legally own property together, create wills or trusts favoring each other, and make medical decisions if the other partner becomes incapacitated. However, they don’t enjoy the full legal benefits and protections of married couples, such as spousal rights to social security benefits, automatic inheritance rights, or spousal privilege in court.

The Duration of Common Law in Virginia

A frequently asked question is: how long is common law in Virginia? As stated before, Virginia does not recognize common law marriage, so there’s no stipulated ‘duration’. Many people mistakenly believe that after living together for a certain period, they’re automatically in a common law marriage. However, this is not the case in Virginia.

Is There Common Law Divorce in Virginia?

Given that Virginia does not recognize common law marriage, it follows that there’s no common law divorce either. If a couple living together decides to separate, they can do so without legal formalities. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that if they’ve jointly acquired property or assets, they might need legal advice to divide these fairly.

What is considered a legal marriage in Virginia?

Legal marriage in Virginia requires a license issued by a Clerk of the Circuit Court. The couple must also have a marriage ceremony performed by a person authorized to conduct marriages. A legal marriage entitles the couple to numerous rights and protections under state and federal law. These include rights to property acquired during marriage, rights to make medical decisions, and the right to seek financial support if the marriage ends.

Is Virginia a Single Consent State?

Yes, Virginia is a single consent state, which means that only one person needs to consent to record a conversation. However, this does not extend to situations where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy, like in a private home. Always be mindful of the legal implications and ethical considerations when recording conversations.

What is the shortest time for common law marriage?

Given that Virginia does not recognize common law marriages, there’s no minimum time frame after which a cohabitating couple would be considered married under common law. However, in states that do recognize common law marriage, there is generally no stipulated time period for cohabitation. The essential elements include living together, presenting as a married couple, and having the intent to be married.

Domestic Partnerships and their Recognition in Virginia

A domestic partnership is an intimate relationship between two individuals who live together and share a domestic life but are not legally married. Virginia law does not have provisions that explicitly recognize domestic partnerships. However, domestic partners can take measures such as signing a cohabitation agreement to outline their responsibilities and rights.

Sexting Laws in Virginia

In Virginia, sexting among adults is generally legal, provided it’s consensual and involves no coercion. However, sexting involving minors is illegal and can result in severe criminal penalties due to child pornography laws. Remember, what might seem like a private, intimate exchange can have far-reaching legal consequences.

The Romeo and Juliet Law in Virginia

The Romeo and Juliet law in Virginia addresses the issue of consensual sexual relations between a minor who is 15, 16, or 17, and an individual less than three years older. It ensures that such cases are not classified as felony offenses. However, they could still be considered a Class 4 misdemeanor. This law aims to distinguish between exploitative sexual conduct and consensual relationships among close-in-age adolescents.

Legal Age in Virginia

The legal age in Virginia, also known as the age of majority, is 18. At this age, individuals gain the rights and responsibilities of adults, including the ability to marry, sign contracts, vote, and more.

How do I get married in Virginia without a ceremony?

Virginia law requires some form of ceremony to solemnize a marriage, but it can be quite minimal. This could be a simple exchange of vows in the presence of an authorized individual, such as a judge or a religious leader. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate event with numerous guests.

What is a domestic partnership in Virginia?

Although Virginia doesn’t explicitly recognize domestic partnerships, couples who live together can still protect their rights. One way is through a cohabitation agreement, which can establish financial arrangements and what would happen to shared property if the relationship ends.

The Basics of Common Law

Common law is a body of law formed through court decisions, as opposed to laws enacted by legislatures (statutory law) or by executive actions. It’s also the foundation for legal procedures and principles in many states, including Virginia. However, common law marriage, a concept often tied to this system, is not acknowledged in Virginia.

Is a Boyfriend Considered a Domestic Partner?

A boyfriend isn’t automatically considered a domestic partner. Domestic partnership typically implies a cohabiting, committed relationship where the partners share financial responsibilities and domestic burdens, similar to a marriage.

The Meaning of Cohabitation in Virginia

Cohabitation in Virginia refers to an arrangement where two individuals live together in a relationship that resembles marriage, without being legally married. While there are no specific cohabitation laws in Virginia, there are legal considerations such as property ownership and financial support that cohabiting couples should be aware of.

Does Virginia Recognize Foreign Marriages?

Yes, Virginia generally recognizes marriages that were legally performed in other countries, provided they don’t violate Virginia’s public policy. For instance, polygamous marriages, even if legal in the country where they were performed, would not be recognized in Virginia.

Qualifying as a Domestic Partner in the USA

Domestic partnerships vary by state, but generally, they involve two unmarried adults in an intimate, committed relationship, living together and sharing domestic responsibilities. Some states require registering the partnership and offer some legal protections and benefits similar to marriage.

Forming a Partnership in Virginia

Forming a business partnership in Virginia involves several steps: choosing a business name, registering it with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, obtaining necessary permits and licenses, and creating a partnership agreement detailing how the partnership will be run.

The Intimacy of Domestic Partners

Domestic partnerships typically involve two individuals in an intimate, committed relationship who live together and share domestic duties. They resemble marriages but are not legally recognized as such in all states, including Virginia.

What is domestic vs de facto partner?

A domestic partner is someone you live with and share an intimate, committed relationship. On the other hand, a de facto partner is often used to refer to someone in a marriage-like relationship, living together on a genuine domestic basis, but not legally married.

How do I become a domestic partner in Virginia?

While Virginia does not have a registration process for domestic partnerships, couples can create a domestic partnership agreement or a cohabitation agreement. These legal documents can outline the couple’s rights and responsibilities, helping protect both parties.

Cohabitation in Virginia Revisited

Cohabitation in Virginia, although not legally recognized as a form of marriage, is a common practice. It’s essential for cohabitating couples to understand their rights and responsibilities, especially concerning property ownership, financial support, and decision-making in case of incapacitation.


While the concept of Virginia common law marriage is a myth, understanding the intricacies of Virginia law regarding cohabitation, domestic partnerships, and legal marriages is crucial. It enables individuals to make informed decisions about their relationships, safeguarding their rights and interests.