'After 26 Years, I Discovered The Truth About My Marriage'

William and I worked at the same social service agency in the '90s, we were both social workers but we worked in different departments. One day in the elevator at work William gave me his card and said to give him a call. I remember thinking, "This joker is crazy, I'm not calling him!"

A month or so later, he saw me in the elevator again and asked why I hadn't called him. I told him that my daddy had told me not to call guys. Shortly after that we had a joint case together, which was kind of uncomfortable. We had to transport a child from their home into social care together and that child actually asked if we were married, he said we looked really good together.

That day, we ended up spending a couple of hours together in the car, and we just hit it off. We became friends and started going out for lunch. William didn't want a girlfriend and I didn't want a boyfriend, we were in agreement on that. It got serious when William decided he was going to go to Tennessee to get his master's degree. He broke it off with me and I was fine about that, but I said I would write and I visited him for his birthday in November 1994. We spent the weekend together and he asked what I thought about moving to Tennessee. I was a single parent and looking to move anyway so I sent my resume out the day before I left and within 8 weeks I had a job and at the beginning of 1995 I moved to Tennessee.

We got engaged that June on my birthday and we were going to get married in '96, but we moved it forward because I was pregnant. I wasn't supposed to be able to have any more children because after my first son I was told I wouldn't be able to get pregnant again.

We came back to Virginia and got married on December 30, 1995. It was a beautiful, candlelit ceremony with close to 200 people in attendance. At the ceremony, the pastor gave us a certificate which was not legally binding but he pointed to his desk and said he had to finish the paperwork and send it in and we'd get our marriage license in the mail. That was a Saturday, the next day was New Year's Eve and we went to the Bahamas on our honeymoon.

Shortly after that, I went into preterm labor. I went into the hospital at maybe 26 weeks and started bleeding, so I was given drugs to try and stop the labour but that put me into a diabetic coma. The doctors told my husband that I was worse off than the baby and they could save the baby more easily than me. He was asked to make a decision and he made the decision to save me.

My son survived and was born prematurely a few weeks later and we now have three sons: two boys together and my son from before our marriage. Our third son was born in 2000.

Like with every marriage we've had ups and downs. I definitely think we were both great parents; that's what we strove to be. We both had the idea that we wanted our kids to have more than we had coming up, so we put a lot into them and probably not as much into each other.

One of the things we had talked about before we got married was that divorce was never going to be an option for us, so that was not a word that we had in our vocabulary. But we really just had common problems like communication, stress, life, sick parents and trying to juggle it all. When you're in it, it's really hard to maneuver, so we did have counseling. It's like maintenance on a car, it keeps the communication flowing and it gives you new tools. A lot of people believe the grass is greener on the other side, but I really don't. Our faith, our communication, our belief that divorce is not an option and counseling have all helped us over the years.

Valerie and William with Their Granddaughters
Valerie and William Beverley with their twin granddaughters. Valerie Beverley

More recently, the Real ID was introduced in Virginia that you have to have on your driving license in order to board domestic flights. It was time for me to renew my driving license in 2021, so I went a week before my birthday to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with all my paperwork, but the woman there asked where my marriage license was.

I said that I didn't have my marriage license, as it had never arrived and I was told I could fill out a form and pay a small fee and they could pull it for me from their system. I did that, but she came back and said our marriage license wasn't coming up on their system. She then told me that the Department of Health would be able to send me my actual marriage license, and once I got it I could come back.

I called my husband immediately after, told him what had happened and that it seemed like we weren't married. He burst out laughing and said, "So I'm free?"

We then told our kids and family and decided to wait because I'd been told they would send us the marriage license in the mail. My mother-in-law said that the same thing had happened to her and it had arrived.

We did not receive a letter from the Virginia Department of Health's Vital Records office until around the first week of December, they said they had searched from 1985 to 2005 and there was no documentation of our marriage.

My husband was confused and I didn't know what to think. I couldn't believe it was true, somebody had to have proof of our marriage. So we called a couple of our friends who are ordained ministers, and they explained to us that the pastor would have had a deadline to turn in the paperwork for our marriage license back in the '90s.

The next day a couple of them started calling around for us, many people we knew were trying to help; suggesting that they would provide affidavits that they were at the wedding, along with pictures.

I had made a couple of calls to the church we had got married in during the summertime, but I had never reached them. In December, I finally got hold of someone who said they only had records of weddings from 2000. We also checked to see if the courts had the original marriage license application, which they didn't, because if, after 60 days, there is no marriage certificate filed, the marriage application is voided. Everywhere we turned was a dead end.

We knew that the previous December the pastor who married us had died. If that hadn't been the case, he would have had to pay a fine. I don't know if our first pastor or his secretary forgot to send our first marriage license paperwork in, I can't say. But I do know he wouldn't have done anything on purpose.

We were then advised by attorneys to get married again on the same date as before, December 30, so by that point we had about a week to put a wedding together. I wanted to make it simple, so I sent out invitations via text message and messenger and William's aunt helped me pull the wedding together in three days.

We had moved back to Newport, Virginia after about 10 or 11 years in Tennessee but we didn't have our second wedding at the same venue as our first because we attend a different church now. My bridesmaids were my twin granddaughters and my husband had our youngest son, who is named John after William's father, as his best man. William's father was his best man at our first wedding but sadly, he had passed away in 2019. My older son walked me down the aisle and our family pastor, who baptized our children, was able to perform our wedding. The wedding, held on December 30, 2021, was beautiful. We lit a unity candle for William's father and my parents.

While we were at the altar, I realized I actually didn't have the license with me. We whispered that to the pastor, and he smiled and kept on going with the ceremony. Afterwards, we discovered it wasn't in our truck either. So we had no license! The pastor said our son son John could go to our house to get it, and the pastor then took care of everything.

During the wedding, our pastor was laughing about how this was our second wedding. He said that a lot of people don't get to marry twice, and that it was a blessing that we had been able to get married again. He called our second wedding: "William and Valerie: The Remix." We just got our wedding license in that mail in January. God bless us that nothing happened to either one of us over the past 26 years that meant we would have had to find out that we really weren't married and then gone through all the issues from that.

We will have to get an attorney to try and get our marriage license back dated because it affects things like taxes. But for now, we're newlyweds again.

Valerie Beverley lives in Newport, Virginia with her husband, William Beverley.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

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