You might be surprised to know that two people can get married without ever walking down an aisle. If those two people express a present tense intent to be married and hold themselves out as spouses, they may be considered legally married despite never having had a wedding or ceremony.
There are two ways to get married in the United States: a statutory marriage and a common law marriage. A statutory marriage involves going to a courthouse, getting a license from the state, and having a religious officiant or a judge perform a ceremony – the way that most people envision a marriage occurring. However, a person can also get married through what is called common law marriage. The unique thing about common law marriage is that the couple usually does not need to go through any kind of legal formalities associated with a statutory marriage, such as getting a license or doing a ceremony, in order to be married.
How does a common law marriage occur?
The key to determining whether two people are in a common law marriage is whether they express a present intent to be married. Courts may also consider whether the two people hold themselves out as spouses.
A dispute about whether two people are married can arise during the dissolution of a marriage when, for example, one spouse is trying to get spousal support from the other and the other claims that the two were never married. Alternatively, a dispute could come up if one spouse is trying to claim some benefits upon the other's death.
Because a variety of factors are often considered in determining whether a common law marriage exists — and because those factors may vary from state to state — we recommend consulting one of the attorneys at Patriots Law Group to help you understand the intricacies of common law marriage.
Is a common law marriage valid in a state that does not allow them?
Although all states have statutory marriage – the type of marriage that may require a license and ceremony — not all states allow for common law marriage. Currently, only a few states (and the District of Columbia) allow common law marriages. The states that do not allow common law marriage, like Virginia and Maryland, may nonetheless recognize it under certain circumstances. For example, if a person enters into a common law marriage in a state that allows them, then that marriage will likely still be valid and recognized even if the person moves to a state that does not allow people to enter into common law marriages.
Let's say that you are common law married in the District of Columbia. If you then move to Maryland, which does not allow common law marriages, you may still be legally married in your new state. However, that marriage may not be recognized if the two spouses would not have been legally allowed to be married in the first place under the recognizing state's law. States often have different laws regarding the minimum age that someone can get married or how closely related two people can be and get married.
The common law marriage may also not be automatically recognized in the new state. In Maryland, for example, for a common law marriage to be legally recognized, there needs to be proof that the marriage was valid in the state in which it was entered into. In Maryland, the most important factor that courts will consider in determining whether a common law marriage existed is whether the two people intended to be married.
How does a common law marriage end?
No longer treating one another as spouses or no longer wanting to be married does not end a common law marriage. Like statutory marriages, the couple needs to get a divorce or annulment in order to end a common law marriage. Failing to obtain a divorce or annulment from a common law marriage has numerous implications, such as allowing the spouses to have claims to each other's estates or not being able to remarry.
It is important that you consult an attorney familiar with marriage laws if you have questions regarding common law marriage. Patriots Law Group can help you understand how common law marriage occurs and the significance of that marriage on other areas of life.
DISCLAIMER: The information above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice for any particular situation. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information and may not be relied upon based on the above-statements. Each individual situation is different and therefore a consultation is necessary before any advice can be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for your situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice concerning your situation.