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Home / Opinion Digests / Family Law / CAV: D.C. wedding, hotel stay didn’t show common-law marriage

CAV: D.C. wedding, hotel stay didn’t show common-law marriage

A couple who got a license to marry in Virginia but held their ceremony in Washington, D.C. was not legally married, despite living together as husband and wife for nine years. Their one-night hotel stay in D.C. after the ceremony and reception didn’t create a D.C. common-law marriage.


Appellant Bartholomew Porter and Appellee Eileen Porter scheduled a wedding ceremony for February 25, 2006, in D.C. The day before, they obtained marriage license from Virginia. Before about 30 to 40 friends and relatives, the parties exchanged marriage vows and stated their intentions to be married to one another. At the end of the ceremony, the parties were introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. Porter.” Afterward, the parties hosted a reception and were presented to their guests as husband and wife. They stayed overnight in a hotel room in D.C.

From February 25, 2006, until September 2015, the parties considered themselves and held themselves out as married. They filed joint tax returns since 2006 and purchased a home title as tenants by the entirety.

The parties separated in September 2015, and Bartholomew filed a complaint for divorce approximately one year later. In March 2017, Eileen moved for a declaration of marriage status. The circuit court held that there was no valid Virginia marriage because no ceremony had been held. Thus, the marriage was void ab initio. The circuit court also concluded that the parties did not enter a common-law marriage in D.C. because their one-night hotel stay did not meet cohabitation requirements. This appeal followed.

Common-law marriage

Virginia does not recognize common-law marriage based on conduct in the commonwealth, but Bartholomew argues that the parties’ one-night stay in D.C. after they exchanged marriage vows was sufficient to establish a D.C. common-law marriage. He asserts that, from the time of the wedding ceremony through the following morning, the parties had “connected lives,” and their actions showed they considered themselves to be married.

The circuit court held, consistent with other states, that parties must show more than a short visit to a state that recognizes common-law marriages as sufficient proof that they cohabitated for common-law marriage purposes. Although Bartholomew had significant contact with D.C. as a resident, he and Eileen’s contact with that jurisdiction as a couple was brief and insufficient to prove cohabitation for common-law marriage purposes.

The parties in this case expressed their intent to marry one another in D.C., but they stayed only one night in that jurisdiction. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in dismissing the complaint for divorce and finding that Bartholomew failed to prove the existence of a common-law marriage in D.C.


Porter v. Porter, Record No. 1872-17-4, Aug. 14, 2018. CAV (Annunziata), from Fairfax Cir. (Bellows). Daniel B. Schy for Appellant; Valerie E. Hughes for Appellee. VLW No. 018-7-208, 8 pp.