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Exploring Common Law Marriages in North Carolina

LadyJusticeRings-200x200Common Law Marriages

A common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage that is permitted in certain jurisdictions and does not require a license or a ceremony. In these marriages, the state will recognize when two people live together as spouses and hold themselves out as a married couple. North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage arising in the state. However, a few states, including Iowa, South Carolina, and Colorado, and Texas do recognize common law marriages. For example, to have a valid common law marriage in Texas, the two individuals have to (1) agree to be married, (2) live together as husband and wife, (3) and show others that the marriage exists (i.e., hold themselves out as married).  In Alabama, each person must show an intention to be married and there must consummation. In a recent development, Alabama has abolished common marriages arising after January 1, 2017.

Although a common misconception, a couple need not enter the common law marriage for a specific time frame to gain recognition for common law marriage. They must only fulfill the qualitative requirements under the state statute.

North Carolina Recognizes Valid Common Law Marriage Arising Elsewhere

As discussed, North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage that arises or is commenced in the state. The only type of marriage that is valid in North Carolina requires a solemnization ceremony presided over by a minister or other persons authorized by law to perform marriage ceremonies. However, North Carolina will recognize common law marriages that arose in other states that recognize common law marriages. Therefore, spouses who commenced their marriage in South Carolina will not lose that recognition if they move to North Carolina so long as the marriage is still valid under South Carolina law and the couple can establish the date on which the marriage commenced. If a common law marriage was commenced in South Carolina, but it is found that the marriage was improperly formed, North Carolina has the right to withhold recognition of the marital relationship. Further, North Carolina has the authority to ensure that all benefits flowing from the marital relationship cease.

The Benefits of Having Common Law Marriage Recognized

The recognition of a common law marriage seems to become a crucial sticking point when the marriage ends, rather than during the marriage.  Still, recognition can bring about benefits during the marriage. These benefits can include access to health insurance and government or military-related entitlements that are based on the marital relationship. All the same, spouses who do not formally marry find importance in the recognition of a common law marriage if one of the spouses dies or when there is a dissolution of the relationship. In order to be divorced, one has to be married. If there is a recognition of a marriage, each spouse can reap the benefits of getting what they have invested into the relationship. The benefits can come in the form of alimony, property distribution, and standard of living considerations. In the same respect, if one spouse dies, recognition of the relationship as a marriage will entitle the surviving spouse to property under probate law in the case the deceased spouse did not leave a will. Again, although a couple cannot commence a common law marriage in North Carolina, it is important for them to know that North Carolina law will honor valid common law marriage arising in another state. The value of understanding the nuances of this law, can make a world of difference.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

If you have any questions about a family law case or need general legal advice, please contact Powers Landreth PLLC in Charlotte. We have our experienced attorneys on-hand to provide you with quality legal representation. Contact us for your consultation.





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