When most people think of a marriage, they picture a traditional wedding at a religious institution or a wedding venue, but that isn’t the only way people can get legally married. Options exist such as a less-formal courthouse marriage, or even elopement. However, there is a phenomenon called a common-law marriage, where a couple can be married in effect even without a marriage license, a ceremony, or an officiant. Common law marriages occur when two consenting adults intend to marry and hold themselves out as being married, but do not have any sort of license or ceremony. In some cases, doing that is enough to constitute a marriage. Common law marriage is on the decline, however, with 40 of 50 states no longer recognizing such marriages as valid.
A common law marriage occurs when a couple in a relationship present themselves as being married, but haven’t had any formal record or sanctioning of a marriage with the state government. Sometimes, merely holding yourself out as being married is enough to legally enter into a marriage. In Alabama, a man and a woman in a relationship can become common-law married if they both have (1) the capacity to marry, (2) the intent to marry each other, and (3) hold themselves out to the community as being married. These three criteria, if met, can create a legally-binding common-law marriage, and, like regular marriages, it can only be ended by a divorce or a death.
According to Alabama law, in order to have the capacity to marry, each person must be over the age of 19, must be of sound mind, and must not be married to someone else. The intent to be married isn’t quite as concrete, and can be established by weighing certain factors in the form of things that married people tend to do. This includes whether the couple lives together, shares a last name, refers to each other as husband and wife, files taxes jointly, and have signed contracts together for things like purchasing a home or a car. This can also include whether the couple has joint bank accounts, whether they share household duties and expenses, and whether they have children together. Lastly, in order for a common-law marriage to occur, the couple must hold each other out to be spouses to family, friends, and the greater community.
In 2016, the Alabama legislature passed a law banning the recognition of common-law marriages which took effect on January 1st, 2017. This means that couples seeking to enjoy the rights of marriage must undergo the legally binding traditional marriage process in order to be married in the state of Alabama. The state of Alabama, however, still recognizes common-law marriages which became legally binding prior to the start of 2017.
The team at The Hankey Law Firm LLC. is well-versed in family law. In fact, we’ve built our entire practice around it. We proudly, diligently, and compassionately serve the people of Cullman County, Blount County, Winston County, Madison County, Morgan County, and beyond. With over 55 years of combined experience are prepared to meet any and all of your family law needs, and also offer probate services, too. Our mission is to deliver timely and professional client-centric representation with sensitivity, compassion, and an extensive knowledge of the law. Contact us today or give us a call at (256)-736-8744 so we can get started helping you!