The couple was shocked by the letter they received from Fairfax County Circuit Court.

Two months after they said their marriage vows in front of 10 attendants, 150 guests and a rector who had flown in from Charlotte, N.C., they were told that they weren't really married.

"You must come to our office immediately and apply for a new marriage license and go through another ceremony," said the letter. "Until you do so you will not be considered married by the state of Virginia."

The problem was that the couple's marriage license was more than 60 days old -- thus making it invalid in Virginia.

"I was real surprised," said the groom, who asked that his name and that of the woman he had thought was his wife not be used. He said he hadn't seen the tiny print on the marriage license or the sign behind the desk at the courthouse. "But really this saved us . . . . I want to get my degree in chemistry."

Instead of singing the wedding bell blues, the Fairfax couple, both barely 20, have decided to wait a while before they take a second trip to the altar, he said.

The couple had filled out an application form on March 29, paid the $20 license fee and received the license the same day (for the last two years in Virginia a blood test has not been required). The license was returned to the courthouse within five days of their July 6 wedding day, as required by law, but was invalid because it had expired May 28.

"That's not Fairfax, that's state law," state registrar Russell E. Booker Jr. said of the 60-day limit. "I don't know how often that happens . . . . I know it happens."

Of the 66,143 marriages in Virginia last year, 5,434 were performed in Fairfax, according to Dorothy Harshbarger, assistant director of the Virginia Center for Health Statistics. She added, however, that that doesn't mean the licenses were obtained in the county, which issued 6,325 marriage licenses last year.

Clerk of the Court Warren E. Barry said yesterday that he could only recall about two or three cases in the last year and a half in which a couple had to be informed that they weren't really married. "It's not that common," he said.