When can I get married?

You must be 18 years old to get married unless you have been emancipated (declared an adult) by a court.

What does it mean in legal terms to get married?

Marriage is a contract and a married couple has duties and responsibilities toward one another until one of them dies or the relationship is legally terminated. In a marriage, it is the duty of each spouse to provide support to the other spouse, and this duty often continues for one spouse even if the marriage results in separation or divorce. Getting married changes your life in many ways, and it is difficult to set out a list. However, some legal ramifications of getting married include potentially changing your last name, making additions or changes to your insurance, and changing your tax status. Being married may also affect how you write a will, or update an existing will. Your marital status also affects how you own property with your spouse.

How do I get a marriage license, and do I have to get a blood test?

You and your fiancé must go to the clerk of the circuit court in the city or county where you live, sign an application, and be issued a marriage license within 60 days before your wedding date. You do not have to get a blood test in Virginia.

What does it mean in legal terms to get divorced?

A divorce is a method of dissolving the legal contract that binds a couple together in marriage. When filing for divorce, the spouse seeking the divorce must set forth their reason or “grounds” for the divorce. Those reasons or “grounds” are as follows:

  1. Sexual intercourse or sodomy with someone outside the marriage;
  2. Conviction of a felony by the spouse;
  3. Willful desertion or abandonment;
  4. Cruelty or the infliction of reasonable apprehension of bodily harm; or
  5. The couple has lived separate and apart for one year with the intent to get a divorce, or six months if there are no minor children and the couple has a written settlement agreement.

Do I have to go to court to resolve the issues surrounding my divorce?

No. There are several methods for resolving the issues surrounding the ending of your marriage including disputes you may have regarding property, your children, and/or child or spousal support. It is a Virginia lawyer’s ethical duty to counsel you regarding mediation, negotiation, and other forms of dispute resolution. These forms of alternative dispute resolution should be weighed against the pros and cons of courtroom litigation. If you are able to resolve your issues, an agreement is typically drafted and that agreement is incorporated into your divorce decree.

Does the mother always get custody of the children?

No. In Virginia, both parents stand on equal footing in a custody dispute, and there is no preference for a mother over a father. The determining issue in all custody and/or visitation cases is the best interests of the child. To reach that determination, a judge must consider a number of statutory factors.

If I have a child when I am not married, what are my legal obligations to that child?

Both parents have legal obligations, regardless of whether you are married to the child’s other parent. If you do not voluntarily take financial responsibility for your child, the court may order you to pay support in a fixed amount. This responsibility generally continues until your child reaches age 18, or if still a full-time high school student until age 19 or graduation, whichever occurs first. If you refuse to pay support after a support order has been entered, your wages could be garnished and you could even face imprisonment. If a man denies that he is a child’s father, the court can order a blood test to determine paternity.

What are my legal rights, and where can I turn for help if I find myself in an abusive relationship?

Both married and unmarried people who find themselves in abusive relationships can seek help from the court system in Virginia. Individuals in fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury can go to court and ask for a protective order to shield them from acts of abuse by third parties, even if the threat comes from a family member. “Family abuse” is any act involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury and that is committed by a person against such person‘s family or household member. Such act includes, but is not limited to, any forceful detention, stalking, or criminal sexual assault as defined by law or any criminal offense that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury. The court may try to alleviate the abusive situation by prohibiting further contact or abuse between you and your abuser, granting you sole possession of the marital residence or forcing your abuser to provide you suitable housing, or even requiring you both to attend counseling. There are stiff legal and financial penalties if your abuser violates a court order. A protective order can be ordered for a period of two years or less. You also may bring criminal charges against your abuser by filing a complaint for assault and battery.

Domestic or relationship abuse is a very serious issue, and the first step is to seek help from an outside resource, which may be the police or an advocacy group in your area that addresses domestic violence. Check your local telephone listings or call the local police department for the number of a resource group that can provide you with further information on your options.

So You’re 18 is presented by the Virginia State Bar Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations.
For print copies of So You're 18 contact (804) 775-0521 or [email protected].