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  • Writer's pictureAnderson Cullen

Common-Law Marriage

Whether there’s a big wedding, a small gathering of friends and family, or a simple marriage at the courthouse, most married people have a formal marriage. However, some people have skipped the traditional formalities of a marriage and instead have an informal, or common law, marriage.

Marriage Requirements

In order for someone to get married in Alabama, the person must meet a few requirements. The person must 1) be over 18 years old or be between 16 and 18 years old with the consent of a legal guardian, 2) be of sound mind, and 3) willingly consent to get married. The person must also not be married and not be related to the person’s intended spouse by blood or adoption. Once these requirements are met, a person is legally allowed to get married.

Getting married in Alabama is very simple; all it requires is a marriage certificate that has been properly completed and filed with the probate court within 30 days of signing. The marriage certificate form contains basic information about the couple and verifies that each person is legally allowed to get married. This form is provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health and must be signed and notarized to be valid. Once the form is properly completed, it can be filed with the probate court, meeting all the requirements for a marriage.

Couples are welcome to participate in a marriage ceremony or similar event, but there is no legal requirement to hold any kind of ceremony. Instead, as long as the completed marriage certificate is filed with the probate court within 30 days, the marriage begins as soon as the couple completes the marriage certificate.

For couples seeking marriage now, this process is the only way to get married in Alabama. However, in the past, there have been other ways to get married. One of these ways is through a common-law marriage. Prior to January 1, 2017, a couple could enter a common-law marriage by meeting three requirements. To establish a common-law marriage, the couple had to 1) be legally allowed to get married, 2) have a present, mutual agreement to get married, and 3) live together and hold themselves out to the public as married.

There are many ways a couple may represent themselves as married. A couple may use the same last name, file joint taxes, or refer to each other as “spouse,” “husband,” or “wife.” There are no specific actions a couple must take to hold themselves out as married. Instead, a couple’s behavior and ways of living are considered altogether when determining whether this requirement has been met.

Even though Alabama has gotten rid of common-law marriage, a couple that met these requirements before January 1, 2017, still has a valid common-law marriage.

How Does a Common-Law Marriage Differ from a Formal Marriage?

If all the requirements are met, a common-law marriage is a valid marriage, just like a formal marriage; a common-law marriage brings with it the same benefits and issues of a standard marriage. If a couple would like to end their common-law marriage, they can file for divorce as if they had a formal marriage. However, a couple seeking a divorce from a common-law marriage will have to prove that they are actually married at common law before they can get a divorce.

To prove that someone is in a common-law marriage, the person will have to tell the court specific facts about the couple’s life together to prove that each requirement was met. Because the requirements for common-law marriage are more complex than the requirements for a formal marriage, proving that a couple has a valid common-law marriage can be much harder than proving a formal marriage.

If you have questions about the legal status of your relationship or are seeking a divorce from a common-law marriage, contact Anderson Cullen at (469) 559-8657 or to set up a consultation. Every case is different, and no strategy works for every case. Together, we can figure out the right steps for your situation.

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Communication with this firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship, nor does the information provided here constitute legal advice. No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than that of legal services performed by other lawyers.

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