My common law wife and I are moving to North Carolina from Georgia. Will North Carolina recognize my marriage?
The definition of marriage and the related divorce proceedings vary from state to state. However it is generally true that when recognizing the validity of a marriage between a man and a woman that divorce courts in most states will uphold the validity of a marriage legally upheld by another state.
Some folks even move to a different state because they incorrectly believe they can obtain a better divorce settlement from their common law marriage. Others move to a different state because they believe their common law marriage will have more legal validity in that state than another state. There are more myths than divorce facts surrounding the legal status of common law marriage in the USA.
Even though the state of North Carolina does not recognize common law marriages, some common law marriages do hold validity in the state of North Carolina. For example, if you and your wife established a common law marriage in the state of Georgia prior to January 1, 1997, then your marriage would be recognized as valid by the state of North Carolina as well as the state of Georgia. If you and your wife established your common law marriage in the state of Georgia on or after January 1, 1997, then your marriage would be not be recognized as valid by the state of North Carolina or the state of Georgia.
While the court of North Carolina may not recognize your common law marriage if it occurred on or after January 1, 1997 in the state of Georgia, they do recognize contract rights between you and your wife. If an unmarried couple enters an express or implied contract, North Carolina Courts will generally enforce it under contract law unless it is based on sexual services. Therefore, couples who live together often have claims to property under a contract theory. For example, if one promises to deed half the house to the other partner in exchange for “fixing it up,” a contract claim may be made. Also, if the parties purchase a house together as an unmarried couple and later split up, one may have to sue the other with a Petition to Partition to divide their legal interests in the real property.
Most legal counsel advises that common law marriage isn’t something to enter lightly. If you are married by common law and then decide to end the relationship, you will still require a legal divorce as many of the rules of divorce apply to common law marriages too. In this way, common law marriages are similar to regular marriages: they are usually easier to get into than to get out of.
Call The Law Office of Stephen M. Corby today for a free consultation with one of our experienced divorce lawyers. We would be happy to talk with you about your concerns regarding the legal status of your marriage in North Carolina.