Individuals in Alabama who have been living under “common law marriage” arrangements before January 1, 2017, will still be classified as “married” if they have presented themselves openly to be “husband and wife.” However, at the end of 2016, Alabama will no longer acknowledge common law marriages.
On May 3, 2016, Governor Robert Bentley signed a bill Representative Mike Jones had introduced during the state legislature’s last session. Jones’ bill effectually abolishes the practice of common law marriages in Alabama. Essentially, the bill prohibits anyone from entering into a common-law marriage after January 1, 2017. “Family law attorney Charlotte Christian of Charlotte Christian Law in Huntsville, Alabama, comments, “This law will change the long-standing recognition of a common law marriage used as a means by many couple to avoid a ‘ceremonial’ marriage.”
A 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 requires individuals of common-law marriages to enter into agreements of marriage relationships and then to present themselves publically as “married.” Proof of such marriages could include, but is not limited to, couples’ filing joint tax returns, maintaining joint bank accounts, or simply presenting themselves as “husband” and “wife”.
The new law, effective January 1, 2017, will result in changing legal implications for the judicial systems of the State of Alabama, one of the few states that still recognizes “common-law marriages.” Presently, 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. “Common-law” divorces do not exist!
Common-law marriages have never been permitted in thirteen states. Alabama’s new law leaves Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah as the only remaining states still recognizing some form of common-law marriage as noted in their statutes.