In most cases, couples get married by using a valid marriage license and having some form of ceremony. They are then recognized as legally married by their state. However, in some states, couples can be recognized as husband and wife without getting a proper marriage license. This is referred to as a common law marriage. Common law marriage grants couples most of the same rights as other married couples, but it is only recognized in some states.
Common law marriage has been around since the late 1800s. Sometimes referred to as “non-ceremonial marriage,” common law marriage can be claimed when a couple has been together for an extended period of time, lives together, and considers themselves married both privately and publicly, but has never had an actual ceremony or valid marriage license. For example, if a couple has been together for seven years, they live together, a spouse takes the other’s last name, they refer to each other as husband and wife, and they share bank accounts, then some states may recognize this as a common law marriage.
North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage. This means that even if a couple meets the requirements of a common law marriage while they are in North Carolina, they are not recognized as actually being married. The states that do fully recognize common law marriage include Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Texas, Utah, South Carolina, and Rhode Island.
While North Carolina does not recognize common law marriages, there are some occasional cases where they may recognize a couple as married if they went through a common law marriage in another state. For North Carolina to acknowledge a couple that has married through common law in another state, they must meet these requirements:
Regardless of what state you live in, if you are in a recognized common law marriage, you must go through a legal divorce or separation in order to end the marriage. Simply moving apart from each other will not legally separate you. Because you will have to go through the divorce or separation process, this means that you will be subject to the same aspects as any other divorcing couple, such as child custody, child support, alimony, property division, and more.
Getting married in North Carolina is a relatively simple process. To do so, you must follow these steps:
Because North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage, there is no specific amount of time that a couple must live together to be recognized as married without a valid license. Under certain circumstances, the state may recognize a common law marriage for a couple that moved to North Carolina from another state. If this applies to you, and you have questions about the status of your common law marriage, you should consult a family law attorney.
If an unmarried couple who shared the same home separates, whoever’s name is on the title of the house is the individual who will receive it. If the house is under both partners’ names, they own the home equally and must come to a fair agreement on what to do with it, whether that means selling it or having one partner buy the other’s share.
No. Even in states that do recognize common law marriage as valid, having a child together is not what makes a couple married. However, if a couple that lives together and has children separates, they will still have to make arrangements for and be subject to any applicable laws concerning child custody and child support.
Unmarried couples that live together in North Carolina do not have the same legal rights that married couples have. Because of this, they are not subject to the same property division processes, such as equitable distribution. To assist with the potential property division process in the future, unmarried couples can file as joint tenants or tenants in common. If they decide to become joint tenants, then their property is recognized as being shared between them, whereas tenants-in-common own property separately.
Whether you went through a common law marriage in another state or you are looking to get legally married here in North Carolina, our team at Lassiter & Lassiter is prepared to help with your family law needs. With over five decades of experience, our firms have provided countless clients across North Carolina with expert legal services. To learn more about our family law services and how we may be able to help you, contact us today for more information.
Call our office at 704-873-2295 or email us today.
Attorney Mike Lassiter grew up in Statesville, makes his living serving the people of Statesville and published a book capturing the changing landscape of small town life across North Carolina and Iredell County. His keen sense of history, dedication to the area and 30 years of legal experience make him an ideal attorney for your legal needs.
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