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Common Law Marriage in North Carolina

By Sherrie C. Smith July 15, 2019

Family Law

Does Common Law Marriage Exist in North Carolina?

Common law marriage is something that most of us have heard of, but do we really know what it is? Does this concept even exist in North Carolina? Common law marriage is a marriage that both partners’ give consent to exist, but they have not registered with a state or church or had a marriage ceremony. It is an implied marriage simply by the fact that the two people involved present themselves as being married.

Common Law Marriage in North Carolina

Parties cannot consent to a common law marriage in North Carolina. North Carolina laws state that a marriage can only be created when both parties give consent and are in the presence of an ordained minister of any religion, a minister that is authorized by a church, or a magistrate. The magistrate or ordained minister must declare that the couple are joined in marriage. The marriage license must then be signed by the ordained minister or magistrate and two witnesses, then the ordained minister or magistrate must submit the signed license to register of deeds in the county where the marriage took place.

Common law marriages, or those that arise out of consent only, are not recognized in North Carolina as valid, legal marriages according to state law. North Carolina will only recognize a common law marriage if the two parties involved are parties to a valid common law marriage in a state that recognizes common law marriages as valid and then moves to North Carolina.

Why is it Important to Establish Common Law Marriages?

The biggest reason to show that a marriage is considered common law in a different state is that if the parties decide to get divorced, as long as the parties are common law married, the laws of North Carolina will apply to their divorce. These laws will apply to equitable distribution and spousal support during the divorce proceedings as long as at least one of the parties of the marriage meets the six-month residential requirement.

How is a Common Law Marriage Dissolved?

Common law marriage is often considered an attractive alternative to traditional marriage because the parties involved are not required to meet any of the government licensing requirements. However, it is unlikely that the couple will be able to avoid court interaction if they decide to seek a divorce. There are a lot more complexities involved in getting a divorce than when the initial union took place.

States that recognize common law marriage rarely recognize common law divorce. This means that the parties will be expected to go through a traditional divorce process just like those parties that chose a traditional marriage. This applies to North Carolina residents, as well. If a common law marriage is established in another state, the couple must obtain a traditional divorce in North Carolina before they can remarry.

Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney Today

If you live in North Carolina and have questions about whether your marriage would be recognized as common law, or are seeking a divorce from a marriage that was recognized as common law in another state, contact the attorneys at Helms, Robison, Lee & Bennett, P.A. today. We can help you understand how your particular situation will be handled based on North Carolina law.

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