Virginia Common Law Marriage

Posted on Dec 4, 2023 by Katie Carter

In order to qualify for the benefits associated with marriage in Virginia, you’re going to need to actually walk down the aisle and get formally, legally married.

Common Law marriage is a concept that has more or less fallen out of fashion and most states don’t recognize any kind of common law marriage designation.  Though many people do still live together – sometimes even for long periods – without marrying, this does not entitle them to any kind of division of the assets in the event of a later breakup.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: divorce is NOT the bad guy!  Breaking up isn’t very fun even under the best of circumstances, but divorce itself – as a legal process – is actually a major protection that entitles you to your marital share of whatever was earned, purchased, or acquired during the marriage, plus potential support.

Custody, visitation, and child support are often determined as part of a divorce, but these are responsibilities that could be judicially allocated between the parties regardless of whether they actually ever formally tied the knot.

You’re either married – or you’re not.  And, if you’re going to be together for an extended period of time, especially if you’re planning on bringing children into the world together, you’re really better off to be married, even if that means you’ll have to get a divorce to formally end your relationship.

Why?  Well, because, in many cases, relationships and childbearing impact women negatively on an economic basis.  It’s at the point that women have children, and for a number of years beyond that point, that the gender gap really becomes a major player.  Not only that, but men typically CREATE more work in a relationship – up to as much as seven additional hours per week.  Women, on the other hand, manage the lion’s share of the caring and homemaking responsibilities, regardless of how much actual income they’re bringing into the family.

So, even if you come into the marriage earning relatively equally (which we often see), that doesn’t mean that things will stay that way.  It happens fairly often in many families that one spouse – usually the mom – makes significant cuts in order to be the kind of mom that the parties want their children to have and in order to make space for all of the additional responsibilities that fall to her.  Whether she decides to stay at home, reduce her hours, earn less at a position that doesn’t maximize her skill set but that gives her flexibility, there’s often a significant economic cost to that decision.  It costs a woman not only in terms of her earnings NOW, but over the long term – her inability to earn enough to save for retirement, for example, or to fully fund social security – can mean that she faces a lifetime of potential poverty in the event that her relationship doesn’t work out.

Marriage provides a measure of security against those risks in the sense that, by virtue of your marriage, you are entitled to a portion of the equity in the home, the retirement, bank accounts, investments, and other assets that make up your total overall portfolio – to the extent, of course, that these assets were earned or acquired during the marriage.  Some assets are separate and therefore NOT divisible in divorce, but the large majority of marriages (especially longer term marriages) result in a significant amount of marital money to divide between the parties.

There’s no question that husbands would prefer NOT to give their wives their fair share; in many cases, I even see husbands deliberately trying to convince their wives that they are not entitled to receive something that they are absolutely entitled to receive.  (See, for example the military ten year myth, probably the most common example of this type of blatant lying that I see regularly in my practice.)

It is important, though, both to KNOW what your share is and then to INSIST that you receive it.  It isn’t a question of “screwing” him over; it’s a question of knowing what your entitlements are under the law and being strong enough to insist that you not only deserve it but that you will not go without receiving it.

Without marrying, you have very little recourse when it comes to dividing up your assets and liabilities, and you will likely find that you have no interest at all even where you may have jointly contributed – or, even if you do, the court isn’t really able to help you divide it.  Not getting married is not the solution, and its important that you realize that there is no common law marriage there to help you, no matter how long you and your partner have lived together and no matter how much you’ve tied together your financial lives.

You should consider attending a monthly divorce seminar for women to learn more about marriage and divorce in Virginia, including what your specific rights and entitlements would be under the law, as well as request a copy of our free divorce book for Virginia women.  Not getting married is really not the answer, unless you’re determined to legitimately stay single and unattached.  Once you start accumulating the trappings of marriage without taking the plunge, you put yourself in a risky position – especially as a woman.

For more information or to request a copy of our book, give our office a call at 757-425-5200 or visit our website at