Marriages in Virginia must be licensed to be considered valid. State law prohibits individuals from being married to more than one person at once. Obtaining several marriage licenses at one time constitutes bigamy and invalidates all but one license. Individuals who believe themselves to be divorced from prior marriages should ensure that the divorces are final before marrying someone else.
Bigamy and Divorce
A bigamist's current marriage is essentially void without decree of divorce. If an individual begins the initial process of divorce but fails to complete it, he or she may not legally re-marry until all divorce proceedings are finalized. A person is not exempt from being classified as a bigamist if he or she marries another person prior to receiving final notice of permanent separation.
In addition to invalidating a second marriage, bigamy is a crime punishable by fine and imprisonment. Individuals found guilty of the offense in Virginia are guilty of a class four felony and may spend several months in prison in addition to paying fines. The penalty for bigamy is valid for any convicted bigamist regardless of circumstance. This means that individuals who engage in a second marriage believing the first one to be dissolved will be subject to bigamy penalties.
Bigamy laws do not apply to individuals who believed their first spouse to be dead and can furnish proof. Providing a death certificate, whether fraudulent or authentic, can clear a person of bigamy charges in these instances. The law also does not apply to a first marriage that was void. Virginia does not hold a person responsible for bigamy who engaged in a married ceremony but failed to obtain a license.
Married persons who leave Virginia to marry someone else are subject to the laws of the state. Even if the second marriage is in another state, the individual will be held as a bigamist according to Virginia laws upon returning to the state. Such evasion statute also applies to married persons wedding outside of the country.