If We Divorce & Then Live Together for 3 Months, Are We Considered Married By Common Law in Alabama?

By Mary Jane Freeman

Sometimes, divorced couples decide to try again. They might date, live together and even remarry. For couples who remarry, they often do so in the traditional manner, which involves obtaining a marriage license and participating in a ceremony before a judge or religious official. However, some spouses opt for common law marriage, which doesn't involve these formalities. Alabama is one of only a few states that recognizes common law marriages, but it takes more than simply living together for three months to create one.

Sometimes, divorced couples decide to try again. They might date, live together and even remarry. For couples who remarry, they often do so in the traditional manner, which involves obtaining a marriage license and participating in a ceremony before a judge or religious official. However, some spouses opt for common law marriage, which doesn't involve these formalities. Alabama is one of only a few states that recognizes common law marriages, but it takes more than simply living together for three months to create one.

Requirements

No matter how long the cohabitation lasts, it takes more than just living together to create a common law marriage in Alabama. Under Alabama law, a common law marriage must have four key characteristics: First, both parties have the capacity to marry, meaning they are at least 18 years of age and mentally competent. Second, they mutually agree that they are married. Third, they must hold themselves out to friends, family and the general public as married. And lastly, the parties must consummate their marriage.

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Scrutiny

The validity of common law marriages is often challenged, particularly when purported spouses apply for programs or benefits reserved for married persons, such as health or medical coverage, Social Security and disability benefits, or proceeds from a life insurance policy. To overcome such scrutiny, it is not enough to simply say you're married; you and your common law spouse must live and act as if you are. Therefore, should a dispute arise, an Alabama court will look at a variety of factors, such as whether you both share a surname, home, expenses and bank accounts, raise children together, file joint tax returns, and refer to each other as either husband or wife when in the company of others.

Divorce

If you and your former spouse successfully enter into a common law marriage, you cannot simply walk away if the marriage doesn't work out the second time around. In other words, there is no such thing as a common law divorce. If you have a common law marriage, to get a divorce in Alabama, you must comply with all the same requirements as couples who enter into a traditional marriage. This means you must file for divorce in the appropriate circuit court, attend any necessary hearings or meetings with the court, reach a marital settlement agreement with your spouse regarding property and debt division, spousal support, child support and custody or, if the two of you are unable to agree, you must go to court, where a judge will decide these issues for you.

Additional Considerations

In a common law marriage, both spouses must consider themselves married. Therefore, if a spouse gives any indication that she believes she is not married, or circumstances are such that a spouse cannot reasonably believe she is married, a common law marriage does not exist. For example, a party that was previously married and never obtained divorce prior to entering into the new relationship cannot reasonably believe that she entered into a new, common law marriage.

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Common Law Divorce in Alabama

References

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Iowa Laws on Common Law Divorce

Although it's not heard of often, common law marriage is still recognized in a handful of states, including Iowa. However, entering into a common law marriage is not as simple as "shacking up." Couples must exhibit additional characteristics, like holding themselves out to the public as married. Once their marriages are found valid under Iowa law, common law spouses can only end such relationships through divorce.

Does Colorado Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Colorado is only one of a handful of states that recognizes common law marriage. However, couples need to do more than simply say they are married if they want the state to recognize the validity of their union. They must act as if they are married, for example, by living together, sharing the same surname and filing joint taxes. Once the state recognizes a couple's common law marriage, the couple can only terminate it by divorce -- just like any other marriage.

Can a Common Law Wife Claim Widow's Benefits?

Marriage determines eligibility for many government and insurance benefits, and most spouses have little trouble proving their marriage with a marriage certificate. However, marriage doesn’t always require a government-issued license and certificate. In a few states, couples can marry informally, creating a common law marriage. Generally, one spouse can collect benefits when the other spouse dies if their relationship met the requirements for common law marriage in their state.

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