For better or worse, married couples who are imprisoned in Virginia may not visit each other, a U.S. appeals court has ruled.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court order, dismissing inmate Franklin R. Wallace's 1978 lawsuit over the issue.

Wallace, 34, had complained that prison rules were prohibiting him from visiting his wife, who was being held at a prison six miles from hsi cell. That, he said, was a violation of his constitutional and marital rights.

The Richmond-based appeals court disagreed, giving Wallace little hope of being reunited with his wife, Patricia, 28, she is an inmate at the Virginia Women's Correctional Facility, about 30 miles west of Richmond.

The Wallaces were convicted on drug charges last year in Newport News and were given different sentences. Franklin Wallace, now in Fayetteville, N.C., facing separate drug charges, was sentenced to 10 years in Virginia prisons. His wife, sentenced to five years in prison is scheduled for patrol on Wednesday.

"This is the first time I've heard of a case concerning this particular issue," said Wayne Farrar, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. "It's not a common occurrence. We have a lot of inmates who are married, but not to each other," he said yesterday.

Married inmates are permitted to telephone each other on holidays, but officials said yesterday, that visiting arrangements would present security problems.

Michael Aun, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said, he could recall only one prison couple. "I know of one married couple who were inmates at a federal prison in Forth Worth, Tex. They were allowed to eat together, but they did not share the same cell."

According to Gary Hill of Contact, Inc., a correctional information, clearing house in Lincoln, Neb., there are approximately 75 married couples currently incarcerated in American prisons. Hill said yesterday he did not believe the visits would present any security problems because of the small number of couples the regulation would affect.

But, Hill added yesterday, "prisons have a bad habit of saying no rather than making an exception."