Bill May Clarify Contradiction Between Virginia Domestic Relations Laws

Currently, under Virginia law it is illegal for unmarried persons to “lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together.” The law, which was originally passed in 1877, is one of only four state laws still in place in the United States barring such conduct. Although rarely enforced, it still renders unmarried cohabitation a criminal offense punishable by a fine and, for repeated offenses, up to one year in jail.

Virginia law also allows individuals, who are unmarried and live together, or have lived together in the past year, with another person, to obtain a protective order against the other person, when that individual is a victim of family abuse perpetrated by the other person. Although the same law includes people who do not live together by virtue of a romantic relationship – for example, college roommates – the law can be used by cohabiting individuals to prevent domestic violence and obtain other relief – for example, exclusive use of a residence, maintenance of utilities for the residence, and requiring the perpetrator of domestic violence to receive counseling or other treatment.

The Virginia family abuse protective order statute was originally enacted in 1984 and has been amended continuously since that time to provide greater protection for victims of domestic violence. In many ways, its enactment and amendment reflect the Virginia legislature’s recognition that unmarried couples who live together require the same protections as married persons, when it comes to stopping domestic violence.

The same may be true for the Virginia law banning unmarried cohabitation. In late February, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that repealed Virginia’s 136 year-old ban on unmarried cohabitation. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has publicly voiced support for repealing the ban. However, it remains to be seen whether the Governor will sign the bill into law.

Authors: Robera K. Henault, Esquire and Hayden O. Lee, Esquire

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