Common law marriage over

Partners have numerous legal arrangements to remain together which pose unique family law issues. However, recognition of one of these legal relationships will end in Alabama. The state will no longer recognize new common-law marriages beginning on New Year’s Day 2017.

A common-law marriage is a union that is legally-recognized even though there is no official marriage license in the state. The law, before this change, did not require a specific time or the couple to live together although seven years is the most cited period. Both parties had to possess the mental capacity to enter this union, intend to enter a marriage with each other and hold themselves out as a married couple to their family, friends and community.

A common-law marriage was legally-recognized once it was established. These marriages could be terminated only through divorce.

According to state legislators, problems developed when these unions ended and one of the partners denied that they were in a common-law marriage. Courts had to decide differing accounts by each partner.

Judges ruled on this dispute by looking at joint bank accounts or joint ownership of homes. They also had to review small details such as whether each partner wore a ring, whether they had separate finances and whether the partner’s relatives were considered in-laws.

However, there were questions over spousal support and palimony. There was also potential abuse when one partner died without a will and the other partner testified, without any rebuttal, for intestate rights.

The Alabama approved a bill last summer ending recognition of new common-law marriages after Jan. 1. These marriages entered before the New Year will continue to be legally recognized.

States that still recognize common-law marriages usually have requirements concerning age and proof of relationship such as sharing the same last name or having a joint bank account. Colorado, Montana, Iowa Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington are the only states that will recognize new common-law marriages. New Hampshire recognizes these unions only for inheritance. Georgia, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania only recognize these marriages that were entered before a certain date.

An attorney can help protect a partner’s rights in this type of changing family law matter. Legal representation may assure that couples can appropriately address matters arising in different legal relationships.

Source:, “Common law marriage in Alabama ending Jan. 1, 2017,” By Leada Gore, Dec. 28, 2016