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Phone: (910) 341-7570

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Does North Carolina recognize common law marriage? How long does a couple have to live together before they are considered legally married in North Carolina?

 

A:

No, there is no such thing as common law marriage in North Carolina.

Most jurisdictions in the United States have discarded the notion that couples can declare themselves married simply by living together as man and wife for a period of time. This type of common law marriage was so-called because it was rooted in ancient traditions that precede our modern understanding of how governments create laws. Today, the common practice is statutory marriage: marriage defined and regulated by the state according to an official legal code.

Only statutory marriage is legally valid in North Carolina. Indeed, North Carolina is one of the few states that never has recognized common law marriage.

We should be clear on a key distinction here. Common law marriage is not the same as a couple "living together." In a common law marriage, the couple presents themselves to the community as a married husband and wife. A cohabiting couple do not necessarily consider themselves married (in fact, they almost certainly don't think of themselves that way).

Currently, the following states (plus the District of Columbia) recognize common law marriages as valid for their residents:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah

In a common law marriage, the couple may not apply for a marriage license (or whatever similar public records are used in their jurisdiction) and may not hold a public ceremony before witnesses to memorialize their marriage. Nevertheless, they will be entitled to every legal benefit and protection that applies to all married couples, if their state government recognizes common law marriages as legitimate.

Constitutional Issues: The Full Faith and Credit Clause

Although every state sets its own rules about marriage and divorce, the U.S. Constitution has specific authority to harmonize these different laws. The Full Faith and Credit Clause in Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution, says: "Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state." Because of this law, when one state authorizes a marriage or divorce, all states must follow.

If a state recognizes common law marriage, then a couple married under the common law of that state must be treated as having a legitimate marriage in other states. For instance, a couple with a South Carolina common-law marriage will continue to be considered married even if they move permanently to North Carolina.

Divorce?

No. No state has any sort of "common law divorce." A couple married by the common law in a state that allows it must follow the standard divorce procedure in the state they live in.

Consult a family law firm if you're puzzled by North Carolina marriage law

Speaks Law Firm should be your top choice when questions arise about the law for marriage and divorce. Our Wilmington family law attorneys provide legal representation in divorce and marriage matters for clients in New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick, Columbus, and Robeson Counties. Call us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 for a quick response to your family law needs.


Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.