Common law marriage is a type of union in which a couple lives together and presents themselves as married without actually obtaining a marriage license or undergoing a formal ceremony.
In the United States, common law marriage is recognized in a limited number of states, and its legality varies depending on the jurisdiction. Is Alabama a common law state? No, but there are some circumstances where common law marriage in Alabama could be recognized.
In this article, our Alabama Divorce lawyers clearly explain the changes in the law. To find out how these changes apply to your situation, please call (256) 859-7277 or contact us through our website for a free consultation.
History of the Changes to Alabama Common Law Marriage Laws
In 2016, Governor Robert Bentley signed a bill that abolished the practice of Alabama common law marriage. Effective January 1, 2017, anyone entering into a common-law marriage would not be recognized as such, pursuant to Alabama Code Section 30-1-20.
So how does Alabama recognize common-law marriages? Individuals in Alabama who were living under valid “common law marriage” arrangements before January 1, 2017, are still classified as “married” if they have presented themselves openly to be “husband and wife.”
Previous Requirements for Common Law Marriage in Alabama
Common-law marriage is dissimilar to a customary marriage in that it does not require couples to perform ceremonies conducted by public or religious officials. Furthermore, couples are not obligated to acquire marriage licenses. Historically, Alabama law required individuals of common-law marriages to enter into agreements of marriage relationships and then present themselves publicly as “married.”
Prior to 2017, the legal requirements related to common-law marriages were:
- Each person had to be legally able to marry (meaning neither partner was already married, they were both of legal age, and they were not closely related);
- Both partners intended to marry; and
- The couple held themselves out as a married couple.
Meeting the burden of proof for holding yourself out as a married couple could be demonstrated in various ways.
Some of the most common options included:
- Referring to each other as spouses in public,
- Opening a joint bank account,
- Using the same last name,
- Buying a home or signing a lease together,
- Using wedding rings,
- Sharing household duties and expenses, and
- Filing a joint tax return.
The easiest option was an affidavit of common law marriage. This notarized statement gave each spouse’s consent to have their relationship recognized as a common law marriage. Couples could attach the documentation noted above to back up their request.
The new law changed legal implications for the judicial systems of the State of Alabama, one of the few states that had still recognized “common-law marriages.”
Some legal issues with common-law marriages can emerge when one person in the relationship denies the “common-law union” has transpired. Then the courts must evaluate several circumstances to determine if the couple’s “union” was binding as a “marriage” and then make appropriate rulings.
If a spouse tries to claim there was no common law marriage, the other spouse has multiple ways of refuting that.
A judge will look at different factors when making a decision. Some of the questions a judge will try to answer include:
- Did the couple live together?
- Did they have a joint bank account?
- Were they raising any children together?
- How were household expenses and duties split?
- Did one spouse use the other partner’s last name?
- Did they file joint tax returns?
- Did they sign any contracts such as a lease, car purchase, etc.?
A yes answer to one question doesn’t guarantee the judge will find there was a common law marriage. They will look at multiple questions and other factors when issuing a ruling.
Is There a Common Law Divorce?
No, once a couple has a recognized common law marriage, it’s a legally binding marriage. That means the only way to end it legally is through a formal divorce through court or when one spouse passes away.
Current Marriage Options in Alabama
Couples in long-term committed relationships do not need to obtain a marriage license or even go through a ceremony to be legally married. Alabama Act 2019-340 eliminated the need for a marriage license.
Now, couples only need to complete an Alabama Marriage Certificate and an affidavit that confirms that each spouse:
- Is at least 18 years of age or between 16 and 18 years of age with the consent of a parent or guardian;
- Has mental and legal capacity to enter into a marriage;
- Is not related to the other spouse in a way that would violate the state’s incest laws; and
- Wants to enter into the marriage of their own free will and not under duress or coercion.
Once everything is completed, the couple must return the documents to the appropriate probate court within 30 days of signing. If each person signs on a different date, the court will consider the latter one as the start date for the 30-day countdown. The probate court will record the certificate to confirm it’s a legal marriage.
Contact a Family Law Attorney in Alabama
Do you have questions about common law marriage in Alabama? If so, please contact The Law Offices of Charlotte Christian and Associates today. Attorney Charlotte Christian has years of experience assisting clients throughout Alabama with all their family law questions. Whatever your family law needs, Charlotte stands ready to help.
Our firm is committed to assisting clients to overcome hardships and build a stronger, happier life. Please schedule a free, initial consultation by either contacting us online or calling (256) 859-7277 so we can discuss the best course of legal action for you.