While there is a widespread misconception that people who have been living together for several years are considered to be parties to a common law marriage, only a few states in the country allow these types of unions and Alabama has eliminated this process in recent years.
What is a common law marriage?
The practice of common law marriage can be dated to American frontier settlements, where it was often difficult to obtain the services of a religious leader and conduct a formal ceremony. As a response to these issues that made the process of getting a traditional marriage difficult, some state governments began passing laws that said a couple was technically married as long as they had been living together for awhile and met some other requirements.
Alabama decides to end new common law marriages due to administrative issues and legal problems
As of 2017, Alabama no longer allows new common law marriages. Changes were made that prevent people from entering into a common law marriage as of the beginning of 2017, but people who had already been married under this doctrine earlier will remain married and they do not have to make any changes to maintain their legal status. The legislature had previously made a significant decision that only marriages with a license and other formalities would now be recognized. Under previous laws in Alabama, a couple only had to show an intent to marry, representation to their families and community that they were married, and the mental capacity to make the marriage agreement to be considered married under common law. Alabama also did not require a fixed number of years for the couple to be together to be married under the state’s common law doctrine.
When people did enter into a common law marriage, it was treated exactly the same as any other marriage and divorce was required for the couple to formally separate.
The legislature and others working in the state’s courts had long been troubled by the process of determining whether a common law marriage really existed in some cases, which motivated lawmakers to eliminate the doctrine from the state’s laws. There were certain forms of evidence such as joint bank accounts or both parties names on a mortgage that could provide guidance, but it was still extremely difficult to make a concrete determination. Family court judges were also placed in a situation where they would essentially have to decide if one party to a divorce should be awarded alimony, without knowing if the couple was really married or not.
In some cases, minor factual details such as whether the couple wore wedding rings or whether relatives believed they were actually married would determine the outcome of the dispute. Common law marriages would also create serious property distribution problems if one party to a couple that was allegedly married made a claim to all of their deceased spouse’s assets.
Other states have made similar changes where common law marriages from the 1990s and earlier are the only ones that are still recognized. Out of the entire U.S., only eight states and the District of Columbia still allow people to enter into new common law marriages. Each of these jurisdictions has slightly different rules, but there are still some places where people can enter into a common law marriage that is recognized under law.
Disputes can still occur despite the repeal of common law marriages
While people who have been living together a long time and decide to separate may still have issues with things like child custody, property division, and other problems, they may not need to formally go through the courts to get a divorce if they started to cohabitate after 2017. In each situation, it is still best to consult with a lawyer to determine the best course of action and figure out if divorce is necessary for a prior common law marriage or long term cohabitation.
Emotions run high in family law
Many family law issues can be difficult for clients because something like a divorce, losing custody of a child, or having to make long-term support payments is a life changing event. This is why it is so important to retain the best legal counsel before going through any of these processes. A family law attorney who practices in your city will be familiar with the local courts and judges. This will allow them to give you insight into the court procedures and advise you regarding your chances of success.
Get in touch with a family attorney in Alabama
To speak with someone locally about the process of a divorce, child custody hearing, child support, alimony payments, or other family law issues, contact Jackie Brown, Attorney at Law. You will receive expert advice that is tailored to your personal situation and the local laws in Mobile, Alabama.