North Carolina Common Law Marriage 2024 – All You Need to Know

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. 

What Is Common Law Marriage? 

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.

Does North Carolina Recognize 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. 

What If a Couple Is Married Through Common Law in Another State? 

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: 

  • The couple had to have engaged in cohabitation in the state where they were married by common law. 
  • The common law marriage was recognized by the state where it took place. 
  • The couple had the state of North Carolina validate their common law marriage. 

Is There Common Law Divorce? 

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. 

How Do You Get Legally Married in North Carolina? 

Getting married in North Carolina is a relatively simple process. To do so, you must follow these steps: 

  1. Make Sure You Are Eligible: There are not many requirements for getting married in North Carolina. The main qualities you must meet include:
    • Both parties must be over 18 years old (if they are younger, they must have a parent’s approval). 
    • Both parties must consent openly and without coercion. 
    • Both parties cannot be more closely related than first cousins. 
  2. Get a Marriage License: You must have a valid marriage license to have a wedding in North Carolina. To get one, you may file a request with the Register of Deeds in North Carolina. While some cities allow for online applications, many of them will require both partners to come into the office and file. A marriage license only lasts 60 days, meaning that you should get it when it is almost time for your wedding. If you wait longer than 60 days, your license will expire, and you will have to reapply.
  3. Have a Ceremony: A wedding must have at least one official who can legally marry a couple. This official can be a magistrate, a minister, any other church official, or anyone else who is legally ordained in North Carolina. It is important to note that judges cannot perform marriages in North Carolina. Your ceremony does not have to be large for it to count; it simply must be performed by a registered official and witnessed.

FAQs About North Carolina Common Law Marriage 

How Long Do You Have to Live Together for a Common Law Marriage in North Carolina? 

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.

Who Gets the House When an Unmarried Couple Splits Up in North Carolina? 

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.

Can Having Children Make You Married Through Common Law Marriage? 

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.

Are Unmarried Couples Still Subject to Equitable Distribution When They Separate? 

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.

Family Law and Marriage Assistance in Statesville 

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. 

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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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