In Virginia, marriage requires consent and competence, a marriage license, and solemnization.
Where to apply?
In order to get a marriage license you must submit a marriage license application at any clerk of the circuit court office within any county or independent city.
You must apply together and in person; the option to apply using an absentee affidavit was eliminated in early 2015.
Circuit court clerks and their deputies serve as marriage licensing officers. If the clerk and deputy clerk are unable to issue a license, the judge of the circuit court must act as their substitute, although returns will still be directed to the clerk.
Throughout the remainder of this document, references to "clerk" should be taken to mean "clerk of the circuit court" or "deputy clerk of the circuit court." Furthermore, references to "county or city" should be taken to mean "county or independent city," as all cities in the commonwealth have been county-equivalent independent cities since 1871.
Although marriage license application questions are determined by the State Registrar of Vital Records, every clerk of the circuit court office is responsible for creating and printing their own forms.
You will be required to supply the following information about yourself:
- Self-designation (e.g., bride, groom, spouse)
- Full name
- Last name at birth (a.k.a. maiden name)
- Age and date of birth
- Birthplace (state or foreign country)
- Residential address, including county
- Highest education level completed (elementary/secondary and college)
- Marriage this represents (e.g., first, second, third)
- Previous marital status (e.g., divorced, widowed)
- Parents' names, sexes, and last names at birth
- Social security number or DMV control number
- Phone number (you may or may not be asked this)
Oath under penalty of perjury
The clerk of the circuit court will administer an oath where you must swear—under penalty of perjury—that the information you've provided in your application is true; no lawful impediment to your proposed marriage exists; and you are legally competent, not about to commit bigamy, and not related to the other applicant within a prohibited degree.
In Virginia, a marriage license will costs between $30 and $33. The vast majority of counties and cities (north of 95%) charge precisely thirty dollars.
Ten dollars of the license fee is apportioned to the Virginia Department of Social Services to fund state domestic violence programs.
When you purchase a marriage license it does not include a complementary certified copy of your marriage certificate. Certificates must be ordered separately for $12 per copy.
Of course, ordering a certificate is purely optional, yet highly recommended.
Fifty dollars is the maximum amount an officiant may charge to solemnize your marriage. However, you and the solemnizing official are free to negotiate additional charges, such as public or private travel expenses.
Whatever bargain is struck, the officiant is legally required to forward you the total cost of the ceremony, plus travel expenses, three days before the ceremony.
Prior to March 18, 1995, residents of Virginia who wished to marry in the commonwealth were required to apply for a marriage license in the county or city of either applicant's residence. Today, that is no longer the case. You may now apply for a license from any clerk of the circuit court office.
You must present one form of ID when applying for a marriage license, such as a driver's license, passport, military ID card, permanent resident card (a.k.a. green card), or certificate of naturalization or citizenship.
There is no waiting period; your marriage license will be issued immediately. You can get married anytime between the moment of issuance and expiration.
Issued license and certificates
Once you've submitted an application, taken the oath, and paid the fee, the clerk of the circuit court will copy over the information from your application—minus your social security number or DMV control number—onto a fresh marriage license document.
The license, which will include two blank "marriage certificate" forms, must be handed over to whoever officiates your marriage ceremony for completion and subsequent return to the originating clerk's office for recording.
In-state vs. out-of-state usage
Once upon a time, a Virginia-issued marriage license could be used outside of the commonwealth, but that loophole was closed way back in 1952. Nowadays, Virginia marriage licenses may only be used in this commonwealth. Moreover, out-of-state licenses will be rejected.
Clerk's liability for faulty issuance
Any clerk or deputy clerk of the circuit court who knowingly issues a marriage license to someone not entitled to receive it may be punished with up to a year's worth of jail time and a fine up to $500.
Your marriage license will expire 60 days after it's been issued. Feel free to purchase another license if you're edging close to your expiration date, although you won't be refunded for the prior buy.
Blood test and exam
You are no longer required to obtain a physical exam and blood test for syphilis. This requirement was repealed in 1984.
If you're below the age of 18, you may only marry if you've been granted a court order emancipating you from your parents or guardian.
A certified copy of the order of emancipation must be presented to the clerk of the circuit court at the time you apply for a marriage license. If you are not emancipated, you can submit a petition for emancipation.
Out-of-state emancipated minors
In Virginia, the minimum age to petition for emancipation is 16 years old. If you're a minor below the age of 18—or even 16—who's already been emancipated in another state or country, you are eligible to marry in the commonwealth.
Pregnancy and parental consent abolished
Prior to July 1, 2016, any clerk of the circuit court was authorized to issue a marriage license to a pregnant or previously pregnant applicant who was under the age of 16 as long as she obtained consent to marry from a parent or guardian along with a physician's certificate confirming the current or previous pregnancy. That earlier allowance is no longer in effect: you must attain emancipation instead.
Petition for emancipation
If you're a minor who's at least 16 years old, you or any parent or guardian may file a petition for emancipation with the juvenile and domestic relations district court in either's county or city of residence. Successful petitioners will be granted a certified copy of the order of emancipation.
Qualifications for emancipation
You're eligible for emancipation if you wish to get married now or have been married before, are an active duty member of any branch of the U.S. armed forces, or are living separate from your parents or guardian, with their blessing, while demonstrating the ability to competently handle your own finances.
Hearing and investigation
The court will schedule a hearing and may direct the local department of social services, or other applicable agency or person, to investigate the claims in your petition and report its findings.
Both you and your parent or guardian will be appointed separate counsel. Your counsel is referred to as guardian ad litem (GAL).
Emancipation to marry
The court will take into consideration the age difference between you and your prospective spouse, prior convictions for violence and barrier crimes (offences making one unemployable around children), history of violence, and what's in your best interest.
Current or prior pregnancy or the consent of a parent or guardian isn't sufficient criteria to justify marriage being in your best interest.
DMV identification card
You can take your order of emancipation to the DMV to get a photo identification card that includes a note that you're emancipated.
Although the emancipation-specific identification card can be used for age and identity verification, when applying for a marriage license, you must still present a certified copy of your court-issued emancipation order.
Although you must briefly document your marital history on the marriage application, you typically do not to bring a certified copy of your divorce decree or prior spouse's death certificate when applying.
Nevertheless, it is the prerogative of the clerk to solicit divorce/death/annulment documents anyway in order to insulate themselves from unlawfully issuing a license.
The following types of marriages are void, or subject to voiding, in the commonwealth:
You are free to marry your first cousin, but you cannot marry your sibling, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, or any ascendant or descendant, such as your parent, grandparent, child, or grandchild. Marriage between prohibited family members is void.
Blood vs. non-blood
Blood and non-blood kinship are treated equally, including whole blood, half blood, and bonds created through adoption.
Prohibition does not end
Family intermarriage prohibitions continue even through death and divorce. For instance, an ex-stepparent cannot marry their ex-stepchild, even after the marriage which brought them together has been disbanded.
The only exception to this rule is if the relationship was severed by a divorce or annulment resulting from a marriage that was originally deemed illegitimate or void.
Evading the law
If you're a resident of Virginia who leaves the commonwealth to get married to a member of your family where that marriage would be deemed illegal here, upon your return you'll be confronted with a voided marriage, as well as a prison sentence that could top six months or a maximum fine of $500.
A jury will determine which punishment to hand down and how severe. The trial venue will be held in the county or city where you and your spouse cohabitated.
Living husband or wife
You cannot marry if you have a living husband or wife. Such a violation would amount to bigamy, which is a Class 4 felony. Your preceding marriage must be dissolved by divorce or annulment before remarrying.
Unless extraordinary circumstances exist, bigamous marriages do not get the benefit of the doubt and will be absolutely void from inception, even without a divorce or other legal process officially nullifying it.
If you enter into what can be argued to be a bigamous marriage, you may avoid criminal punishment and your latter marriage being voided if you meet either of the following criteria:
- Your prior spouse was absent and not known to be alive for seven successive years immediately prior to your subsequent marriage.
- You entered into the subsequent marriage in good faith having reasonably believed your prior spouse was deceased.
If you were to enter into a marriage with someone who could not have properly consented due to being mentally or physically incapacitated at the time of marriage, it wouldn't automatically result in a voided marriage, but it would result in a voidable marriage.
The latter would be highly susceptible to a dissolution or annulment action stemming from alleged incapacitation.
Any non-emancipated minor who marries in the commonwealth after July 1, 2016 will have a marriage that will be voided from its beginning following a divorce or annulment. This condition does not apply for an underage marriage that takes place outside the commonwealth.
If you're a minor who hasn't been emancipated, you should not be able to obtain a marriage license in Virginia, unless you perjure yourself during the application process by lying about your age.
The person who presides over your marriage is called the officiant. Following are the officiants authorized to carry out solemnizations in the commonwealth:
Nearly any judge or justice who resides in Virginia may solemnize marriages throughout the commonwealth without having to register their credentials or pay a bond.
Specifically sanctioned commonwealth judicial officials include any active or retired judge or justice as well as any active, retired, or senior federal judge or justice who's a commonwealth resident.
Any minister of any religious denomination may perform marriages within the commonwealth as long as they obtain an order to do so from a clerk or judge of any circuit court within the commonwealth.
Ministers who register to obtain a solemnization authorization order must be ordained and remain in good standing as a member of his or her religious body or society, or locally licensed, or serving as a sanctioned pastor. No oath or bond is required.
Religious societies without an ordained minister (e.g., Quakers, Sikhs) can have their marriages solemnized by the couple using whichever procedure is customary in the society. This is sometimes referred to as a self-solemnized or self-affirming marriage ceremony.
The society may choose any member to complete the marriage certificates after the ceremony, as any regular minister or judge would. No oath is required.
Even though the current Virginia statute governing solemnization by religious societies says only one chosen member of the society can officiant and must enter a penalty surety bond of $500, both provisions were ruled unconstitutional on May 29, 2013 by the Fairfax County Circuit Court in the case of In Re Singh.
The power to solemnize marriages in the commonwealth isn't consigned to just judges and ministers; anyone may obtain an order that permits him or her to perform marriages by registering with any clerk or judge of a commonwealth circuit court and executing a penalty bond of $500, which may be with our without surety. No oath is required.
Professional officiants-for-hire typically fall into this third group.
Your marriage cannot be solemnized, which is the act of presiding over your marriage, until you forfeit your license and certificates to the officiant.
Witnesses are not required to attend your marriage ceremony, nor are they permitted to sign your marriage certificates during the certification phase of the ceremony.
Completing the certificates
Once the marriage ceremony has concluded, the officiant has a duty to complete/certify/endorse both marriage certificate documents attached to the marriage license. Completion entails documenting when and where the marriage was held and who performed it.
Neither you, nor your spouse, nor any optional witness in attendance is allowed to sign either certificate.
Returning the certificates
The officiant must return the marriage license and both completed marriage certificates to the clerk of the circuit court who issued them no later than five days following the marriage ceremony for recordation.
Solemnization without a license
If your marriage is solemnized without a valid marriage license, it will be illegitimate, nonexistent, uncertifiable, and unrecordable.
Any officiant who knowingly solemnizes a marriage without a marriage license can face up to one year of jail time and a fine of up to $500. This same punishment also applies to unauthorized officiants.
If your marriage is performed by someone who lacked the legal authority or jurisdiction, it would not nullify your marriage if you, your spouse, or both of you believed you were lawfully married. However, the unauthorized officiant could face imprisonment for up to one year and fined up to $500.
Once your marriage license and certificates have been returned by your officiant to the clerk of the circuit court who issued them, the original copy (titled "marriage register") will be permanently filed in the office, indexed, and recorded, while the other duplicate copy (titled "marriage return") will be dispatched to the State Registrar of Vital Records.
Certified copies of your marriage certificate will be available for order post-recording.
Dead or incapacitated officiant
If the officiant who solemnized your marriage ceremony were to die or become incapacitated prior to completing and returning the license and certificates, the circuit court may order the clerk to complete the certificates once the marriage's existence has been verified.
Marriage certificate (certified copies)
A certified copy of your marriage certificates serves as proof of marriage, and must be accepted at face value in all commonwealth courts. It's also the document you'll use to change your name after marriage.
Clerk's office vs. state registrar
Although the clerk of every circuit court is required to forward a duplicate copy of every returned marriage certificate to the State Registrar of Vital Records, it only needs to be done by the tenth day of every calendar month. Therefore, if you're in need of certified copies of your marriage record sooner rather than later, the clerk's office will be the faster option.
Name change after marriage
If you anticipate changing your name after marriage in Virginia, you'll need to obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate beforehand.
Permitted name change options
Women can replace their middle name with their maiden name, take their spouse's surname as their new last name, or hyphenate surnames. First name changes require petitioning the circuit court in your county or city of residence.
Government agencies to notify
A certified copy of your marriage certificate legally authorizes the changing of your name on the following documents:
- Social security card, with any local Social Security Administration office.
- Adult ID card, learner's permit, driver's license, or emancipated minor's identification card, with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Passport, with any U.S. passport agency or center.
- Voter registration card, with your general registrar.
- Any other government-issued ID.
Photocopies of your marriage certificate are typically sufficient for most non-government institutions.
Common-law marriage is not recognized in Virginia. Your marriage must be properly licensed and solemnized to be legally binding in the Commonwealth.
The final step
You should finally be prepared to move onto the next phase of your marriage journey by choosing a county or city circuit court to visit. Below, you'll find a list of counties and cities containing circuit courts locations.
You may notice about a dozen missing counties/cities; that's because not every county and city has a circuit court. Just choose the next closest spot, as a license gotten from any county/city is viable anywhere in the commonwealth. Good luck.