In the United States, the majority of couples marry by obtaining a marriage license and holding a legal or religious wedding ceremony. Some states, however, accept common-law marriage, which does not necessitate obtaining a marriage license. When the couple meets specific criteria, a common-law marriage might become a formal marriage. And even though most states do not accept common-law marriage, like North Carolina (NC), if a couple is considered married under common-law in a state where it is lawful, they will be considered legally married in other states, even if they do not recognize it.
But, in recent times, there’s been a lot of misunderstanding in the United States about when common-law marriages become valid and how to divorce after a common-law marriage. If you have any questions about common-law marriage in North Carolina (NC), contact a family law attorney in North Carolina.
What is the Definition of Common Law Marriage?
A common law marriage is a legally recognized union that does not require a license or a ceremony and is valid in certain jurisdictions. The state will recognize these marriages when two persons live together as spouses and present themselves as a married couple. The state of North Carolina (NC), however, does not recognize common-law marriage.
Common law marriages are recognized in a few states, including Iowa, South Carolina, Colorado, and Texas. To have a legitimate common law marriage in Texas, for example, the two people must
- Agree to be married,
- Live together as husband and wife, and
- Demonstrate that the marriage exists to others (i.e., hold themselves out as married).
In Alabama, each person must express a desire to marry and the marriage must be consummated. Alabama just abolished common weddings that occurred after January 1, 2017.
Although it is a widespread misperception, a couple does not have to enter into a common-law marriage for a set period of time in order for it to be recognized. They are simply required to meet the state’s quality requirements.
NC and Common Law Marriage
Common law marriages are not recognized in North Carolina. In North Carolina, a marriage can only be initiated in the presence of an ordained minister of any religious denomination or a magistrate, with the minister or magistrate declaring the parties to be joined by matrimony.
A common law marriage will be recognized in North Carolina only if the couple married in a state that accepts common law marriage before moving to North Carolina.
Is Common-Law Marriage Legal in South Carolina?
South Carolina no longer recognizes common-law marriages as of July 24, 2019. Prior to July 24, 2019, those who met the requirements for common-law marriage can still be considered wedded. Unmarried couples in South Carolina, on the other hand, can no longer marry under the common-law system.
Which States Accept Common-Law Marriage?
Kansas, Texas, the District of Columbia, Montana, and Utah are among the few states that still recognize common-law marriage. These states may have their own set of rules for common-law marriage, but these rules aren’t always apparent.
In Kansas, for example, a common-law marriage requires both parties to:
- At least 18 years old
- Possess the ability to marry
- Have a current marriage contract
- Present each other to the public as husband and wife
Misconceptions About Common-Law Marriage
There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about common-law marriage. Some people believe that if a couple lives together for a particular period of time, they are considered married under common law. However, it is common practice for a couple to show themselves to the public as married.
Similarly, under Kansas’ common-law marriage statutes, both spouses must sign a marriage contract. The couple would not be considered married under common-law if one party never wishes to get married, never agrees to get married, and never presents themselves in public as married to the other party.
Moving to North Carolina as a Common-Law Married Couple
Common-law marriages in one state must be recognized in other states under the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause. This means that if a couple is legally married in a state like Texas or Montana, they will be deemed legally married in North Carolina.
Let’s visualize this;
While residing in Utah, a couple meets the conditions for common-law marriage. The wife accepts a job in Raleigh, and the couple relocates to the state. When registering for medical benefits for the pair, the wife fills out the form with her husband’s information. When a coworker discovers that the couple never had a wedding ceremony, she files them as unmarried. However, because the couple’s marriage was legal in Utah, North Carolina (NC) will regard it as valid, despite the fact that common-law marriage is illegal in the state.
Is it Possible to Divorce Under Common Law?
In any state in the United States, common-law divorce is not an option. If a couple was married by common-law or by a marriage license and ceremony, they will need to obtain a legal divorce in order to divorce. Living apart and claiming to be divorced does not constitute a legal separation. Basically, until they obtained a legal divorce, the pair would be considered legally wedded.
In order to file for divorce in North Carolina, the marriage must be physically separated for at least one year and at least one spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months previous to filing.
Attorneys for Family Law in North Carolina
Individuals considering divorce may be uncertain whether they were considered married if they lived together as a married couple in another state but did not have a formal ceremony. Separation may necessitate the filing of a legal divorce petition. Anyone who has questions regarding common-law marriage and how it can influence their divorce rights should turn to an expert legal counsel.
North Carolina Recognizes Valid Common Law Marriage Arising Elsewhere
North Carolina does not recognize common-law marriages that occur or start in the state, as previously stated. A solemnization ceremony presided over by a clergyman or other persons authorized by law to administer marriage ceremonies is the only type of marriage that is valid in North Carolina. North Carolina, on the other hand, will recognize common law marriages formed in other states that recognize them. As a result, spouses who initiated their marriage in Texas will keep it intact if they move to North Carolina, as long as the marriage is still lawful under Texas law and the couple can prove when the marriage started. If a common-law marriage is started in Texas, but it is later discovered that it was not properly established, North Carolina has the power to refuse to recognize the marriage. Furthermore, North Carolina has the authority to ensure that all marital benefits are terminated.
The Advantages of Recognizing Common Law Marriage
When a marriage ends, the recognition of a common-law marriage appears to become a major sticking point rather in the course of the marriage. Nonetheless, acknowledgment/recognition might have a positive impact on the marriage. Examples of these advantages include, access to health insurance and government or military-related perks based on the marital relationship.
But, spouses who do not formally marry value the acknowledgment of a common-law marriage in the event that one of them dies or the relationship dissolves. To get divorced, one must first be married. If a marriage is recognized, both spouses can benefit from receiving what they have invested in the relationship.
Possible benefits include alimony, property distribution, and standard of living concerns. In the same way, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse will be entitled to property under probate law if the deceased spouse did not make a will. Although a couple cannot start a common law marriage in North Carolina, it is crucial to note that North Carolina law will recognize a legitimate common law marriage that began in another state. The importance of grasping the subtleties of this law can make all the difference.
How Does One Go About Getting a Common Law Marriage Annulled?
While common law marriage may appear to be a more appealing option (since there are no government licensing requirements), judicial involvement is almost certainly unavoidable when seeking a divorce. There are a lot more intricacies in breaking up than there are in starting up.
States that recognize common law marriage, for example, frequently do not recognize common law divorce. It is believed that one will go through the same divorce process as regular married couples. If the parties to a common-law marriage formed in another state are citizens of North Carolina, the couple must divorce before any party can remarry.
If you live in North Carolina and have a common law marriage in another state that you want to dissolve, you should seek legal advice from a North Carolina family law practitioner.
Is There a Conditional Circumstance Under Which a Common Law Marriage in North Carolina Will Be Recognized?
If each partner establishes a Power of Attorney for the other, the two partners enter into a contractual relationship and are recognized as Common Law Married in North Carolina. Even this is debatable, and the claim of marriage will almost certainly require legal assistance.
If I Move to North Carolina From Another State, Will My Common Law Marriage Be Recognized?
This is where a common-law marriage is most likely to be approved and accepted in North Carolina. If you’ve been recognized as a common-law married couple in another state and move to North Carolina, the state will accept your union. A few conditions must be met in order for the validity to be accepted.
The couple must have lived together in a state where Common Law Marriage is legal. The following states recognize a common-law marriage:
- Alabama (for marriages before 2017)
- The District of Columbia is located in the United States of America.
- Georgia (for marriages before 1997)
- Idaho (for marriages before 1996)
- New Hampshire
- Ohio (for marriages before October 1991)
- Pennsylvania (for marriages before 2005)
- Rhode Island
The North Carolina Supreme Court can determine when the proclamation of Common Law Marriage commenced.
When moving to a new state, these are common needs or necessities. Each state has its own perspective on common law marriage. If the couple moves to a state that does not recognize common law marriage, they will need to find a way to maintain their marital status.