Common Law Marriage in Alabama: Is It Legal in 2023?

Common Law Marriage in Alabama

Today I’m going to share with you Common Law Marriage in Alabama, Is It Legal in 2021?

Any definition of marriage seems to be not apt enough to grasp the entirety or complexity of the concept that marriage is. It is more than a governmentally sanctioned union as it may be best described.

Not everyone is ready for the emotional or psychological involvement that inevitably comes with the stamp of marriage and this is where common law marriage comes into the picture.

This article is going to take a dive into common law marriage, more specifically, common law marriage in Alabama along with everything else you need to know about it.

Defining Common Law Marriage:

Defining Common Law Marriage

Before getting into anything else, let us first answer the main question which is what exactly is common law marriage or what is the common law marriage definition in the eyes of law.

Common law marriage can be best defined as a legal concept or arrangement that can be applied to couples who are in a relationship and present themselves to be married but haven’t been legally married i.e., they haven’t been issued a marriage certificate by the state.

Common law marriage in Alabama, as well as other states, works in a way that both the benefits and obligations of being married can take their course without being formally sanctioned by the government.

But the existence and practice of common law marriage is highly argued upon and depends on a lot of factors. The most important point to keep in mind is that not all states accept the validity of common law marriage.

If the state does accept the concept of common law marriage, it is only accepted if the couple views their relationship from a governmentally approved point of view and go ahead and actually follow the same lifestyle.

There has been an extremely visible decline in the acceptance of the legitimacy of common law marriages over time and only a handful of states (discussed below) recognize common-law marriages currently.

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States That Currently Accept Common-Law Marriages:

States That Currently Accept Common-Law Marriages

As mentioned above, only a handful of states have continued to accept the legitimacy of common law marriages. Currently, the following states accept common law marriages: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Texas. Apart from these, Washington, D.C. also allows common law marriages.  

There are some states that have changed their laws regarding common law marriages and they recognize it if you have entered into one state before the state laws were changed. The best example for the same is Alabama common marriage laws which will further be explored in this article.

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Is There Common Law Marriage in Alabama?

States That Currently Accept Common-Law Marriages (1)

The answer to that question is yes and no. Alabama only recognizes couples who have entered common law marriage before 1st January 2017 as the government of Alabama has changed their laws and outdated common law marriage since then.

So any common law marriage Alabama prior to 2017 will be considered valid even today. 

This change in Alabama common marriage laws has taken place due to many issues and the vague nature of settlements that arise with the termination of a common law marriage.

Some people claim to be a part of common law marriage in Alabama or other states to gain legal advantages when it comes to settlement cases like alimony, inheritance, etc, and it is difficult for the court to make just decisions regarding them.

In order to prove a common law marriage in Alabama, a couple needs to meet a well-defined set of criteria. Alabama common law marriage requirements are as follows:

  1. Both parties had the “capacity” to marry at the time of the marriage.
  2. Both parties had to willingly agree to be married to each other. Meaning both spouses have to affirmatively say or do something that shows that they have an intention to marry the other person.
  3. Both parties must have “held themselves out” to other people as being a married couple. This means that people in a common law marriage need to behave in a way as if they were married to each other. Both parties need to also have to live together.

It is reasonable to believe that common law marriage in Alabama can spontaneously happen. This can be because a couple is living together or because they have children together.

But this presumption is wrong. Having children or living together in one house aren’t enough reasons to prove the existence of a common law marriage. More on this has been explored further in the article.

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What Is the Meaning of “Capacity to Marry”?

What Is the Meaning of “Capacity to Marry” (1)

One of the Alabama common law marriage requirements to get married is that both parties have the capacity to marry. What does capacity to marry mean?

The following things define capacity to marry in common law marriage in Alabama:

  1. You must be an adult according to law.
  2. You must be of sound mind meaning you should be mentally stable.
  3. You must not be married to anyone else.

It is important to note that even if you don’t have the capacity to marry (refer above) you can still end up married under common law marriage in the eyes of the law when you start living with someone in the same house.

For example, If the applicant is under nineteen, he or she starts living with someone else before pending divorce to any other party is not yet resolved, etc.

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The Legal Effect of Common Law Marriage in Alabama:

The Legal Effect of Common Law Marriage in Alabama

Valid common law marriages in Alabama have more or less have the same legal rights and responsibilities as couples who are married traditionally. A common law marriage can only end with the death of a spouse or by filing a couple divorce.

According to Alabama common marriage laws, couples enjoy full benefits of Alabama’s family court laws, rules and responsibilities when it comes to issues like division of property, custody of kids, child support or alimony, very much like any other couple.

If one of the spouses in a common law marriage in Alabama was to pass away without a will, the state’s inheritance laws will be applied in the case. If two partners in a common law marriage have any sorts of legal problems, they can resolve them easily using Alabama’s tort or contract laws.

Importantly, if either partner in the common law marriage is a victim of domestic violence or abuse, a court can issue a restraining order against the abusive spouse to protect the applicant.

  • Proof of Common Law Marriage in Alabama:

As a couple tied through common law marriage in Alabama or any other state for that matter, you are required to prove your marriage when it comes to availing any spousal benefits. For example, during will and inheritance cases, divorce cases, etc.

The evidence provided in these situations needs to be highly probable.

Alabama common law marriage requirements to prove to the state that you are married is important and can be done by using the following methods in addition to living together.

  1. Opening up a joint bank account
  2. Present yourself as a married couple to the community by referring to each other as husband or wife.
  3. Openly wearing wedding bands or rings
  4. Having the same last name
  5. Shared expenses and household duties
  6. Filing joint tax returns.
  7. Signing an Alabama common law marriage affidavit. Alabama common law marriage affidavit can be defined as a notarized statement where the applicant attests his or her agreement and consent to having their relationship be considered and seen as a common law marriage in the eyes of law and society. Proof (points discussed above) will be needed to be presented while the affidavit is being signed.
  • Developments in Current Alabama Common Marriage Laws:

As of August 29, 2019, couples in Alabama no longer require a marriage license to be married, and an official ceremony is completely optional and depends on the will of the couple. For the completion of an Alabama Marriage Certificate, an Alabama common law marriage affidavit needs to be submitted by both parties. Alabama common law marriage requirements that need to be fulfilled are:

  1. That the person is at least 18 years of age
  2. If the applicant is 16 (minimum) or under 18 years of age, he or she needs to have the consent of a guardian.
  3. He or she is legally competent for the marriage
  4. He or she isn’t related by blood or adoption to his or her potential spouse as it would violate Alabama’s incest laws
  5. He or she is choosing to enter into the marriage voluntarily and not under duress or undue influence by anyone else.

The certificate and Alabama common law marriage affidavit, once made and signed, must be returned to the court for recording within 30 days. If the spouses sign the certificate on different dates, the latter of the two dates is counted.

  • Recognition of Common Law Marriages Established in the Other States by Alabama.

Under the full faith and credit clause of the US constitution, all states that recognize common law marriages have to accept the common law marriages that have been established in other states.

For example, Common law marriages Alabama prior to 2017 will be considered married throughout states that still see common law marriage to be relevant.

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The Impact of Common Law Marriage on Insurance Eligibility:

The Impact of Common Law Marriage on Insurance Eligibility

In Alabama, if a workplace offers spousal coverage for health insurance, it includes partners in common law marriages (Alabama, prior to 2017) as well.

Children are also considered legitimate dependents when it comes to health insurance coverage. Children in a common law marriage are considered an employee’s dependents for purposes of health insurance coverage.

Some companies may require a signed Alabama common law marriage affidavit from the employee to prove the common law marriage in addition to additional evidence like joint tax returns, a joint mortgage, etc.

  • Myths Regarding Common Law Marriage in Alabama:

As a hotly debated and not widely acceptable social construct, numerous myths have been seen regarding common law marriages in Alabama, some of them have been discussed below:

  • Myth: Just Living Together Constitutes a Valid Common Law Marriage in Alabama.  

Reality: Unlike popular belief, cohabitation is not enough to justify a common law marriage in Alabama. A couple living together needs to act like a married couple to the community and must refer to themselves as husband and wife in public.

They must go about other norms of marriage regularly. For instance, they may file a joint tax return, one spouse may choose to take up the other’s last name, etc.

  • Myth: Property Purchased by a Spouse Is a Marital Asset and Will Be Split During a Divorce.

Reality: The chance to divide family assets like property is only accessible to legally married couples. If one of the spouses is the single owner of the house that is shared by them, he or she does not need the consent of his or her partner if he wishes to sell their house. 

To avoid any such conflict, it is advised to buy a home or refinance a co-ownership agreement with your spouse, even if it is a common law marriage.

If done, this allows both spouses to have legal protection when it comes to property and both reap the benefits of the potential for their home’s value.

  • Myth: Common Law Parents Must Each Adopt Any Child They Have Together.

Reality: Children born to common law marriage sanctioned couples are seen as legitimate in the eyes of law and need not be adopted by either parent. The parents have the same responsibilities as any other.

  • Myth: If You Are in a Common Law Marriage in Alabama and Your Spouse Dies, All Assets Are Inherited to You by Default.

Reality: The state will demand proper evidence to prove that an acceptable common law courtship existed for a chance to claim any inheritance.

To avoid this task, it is advised that a will or a common law marriage contract be made with the help of your lawyer so the court has a clear idea of what was wanted by both parties.

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Pros and Cons of Common Law Marriage in Alabama:

Pros and Cons of Common Law Marriage in Alabama

We know that common law marriage in Alabama is a debated issue with its relevance not being accepted everywhere. To get a better idea of the various points of view on common law marriage, let’s list out the pros and cons for the same.

  • The Pros of Common Law Marriage in Alabama:

Very much like any regular marriage, common law couples enjoy the benefit of all rules and laws of Alabama’s family court.

According to Alabama common marriage laws, they have access to the same rights and are subject to the same responsibilities as normal couples in the eyes of the state with matters regarding the division of property, custody, spousal support, etc.

With society evolving every second, having kids outside marriage has become more acceptable but earlier, if one wanted kids without the tag of being in wedlock, common law marriages were an option.

When it comes to social security benefits, couples under common law marriage have an upper hand with a much stronger case when it comes to survivor benefits contrary to couples who are simply living together.

A spouse in a common law marriage in Alabama has the right to make medical decisions for their partners if they are not capable of doing the same. Either of the two parties can file for a divorce and have the chance to inherit his or her spouse’s property.

Alabama accepts common law marriages that were entered into them from other countries as well.

  • The Cons of Common Law Marriage in Alabama:

The biggest issue regarding common law marriage arises when it comes to court cases involved in the settlement of related issues of the spouses. According to Alabama common marriage laws, the court demands a lot of evidence to prove that the couple indeed is married. Laws that are founded on the basis of clarity do not always get the same while dealing with cases involved with common law marriage.

As mentioned earlier, the concept and image of common law marriage may differ for everyone but in order to collect any incentives or benefits that married couples enjoy, a common law marriage needs to be clearly and visibly established.

Even though the marriage is not as official, the Alabama common law marriage divorce process is. Either spouse cannot choose to simply walk away from a common law marriage thinking that union is not as official.

In order for the marriage to rightfully terminate, the couples need to file for a formal divorce. The only other way that the common law marriage would end is if either of the spouses were to pass away.

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Does Alabama Common Law Marriage Divorce Exist?

Contrary to popular belief, Alabama common law marriage divorce is not a thing. There exists no such thing as a common law divorce in any other state as well. So how does a common law marriage end?

It ends exactly how a normal, governmentally sanctioned marriage would. The process for the divorce remains the same which means that a couple under common law marriage wanting a divorce needs to go through a formal divorce process that any other normal couple would.

In the same way, the common law marriage will terminate if one of the partners passes away as well.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Frequently Asked Questions

Some frequently asked questions regarding common law marriages in Alabama have been answered below:

1. Is There Common Law Marriage in Alabama? 

Only those common law marriages are considered valid in the eyes of the state of Alabama that have been entered before January 1st of 2017. In other words, only common law marriage Alabama before 2017 is acceptable

2. Is Being an Adult One of the Alabama Common Law Marriage Requirements?

Yes, both parties need to be above the Alabama governments’ decided age to be applicable for marriage. Guardian consent may be needed in some cases of common law marriage in Alabama.

 3. Does Alabama Common Law Marriage Divorce Exist?

No, there is no such thing as Alabama common law marriage divorce. Couples married under common law marriage need to formally file for a divorce if either spouse wants the marriage to terminate.

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Ending the Article:

Alabama common marriage laws are trying to be inclusive of the maximum number of couples they can. Despite the legal approval of these marriages, they can still be dangerous due to their vague nature if not read or researched upon.

If you live in states that still accept common law marriages, there is no need to feel inferior to people who are traditionally married but make sure to have all proof and documents ready in case of any conflicts.

Traditional marriage may or may not be the right option for everyone and people living in common law marriage approved states have this alternative handy and should definitely explore more about it.

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