Marriage is one of the few institutions that has been around longer than courts have. In ancient times, marrying couples couldn’t simply go to the courthouse and sign a marriage certificate. In other words, back in those days, all marriages were common law marriages. Believe it or not, a few common law marriages still exist today in Georgia.
If you think you are in a common law marriage, you need to find out for sure. Whether or not you are married to your partner can strongly impact divorce proceedings, child custody, property division, and more.
Georgia Has Abolished Common Law Marriage
On January 1, 1997. Georgia stopped recognizing new common law marriages. Of course, it would be a shame if common law couples who had been married for decades were suddenly declared single just because Georgia abolished common law marriage.
In response to this problem, the Georgia law banning common law marriage included a “grandfather clause.” The grandfather clause locks in (and therefore preserves) Georgia common law marriages that couples entered into before January 1, 1997.
Georgia will not recognize new common law marriages. The consequence of this state of affairs is that all Georgia common law marriages have been in existence for over a quarter of a century.
Does Your Relationship Qualify as a Common Law Marriage?
If you and your partner have been together since 1996 or before, it is possible that Georgia might recognize your relationship as a common-law marriage. The following are the legal requirements:
- Both parties must have been legal adults (at least 18 years old).
- Neither party was married to someone else at the time.
- The couple must have entered into the marriage in good faith.
- Both parties were legally competent to enter into a contract.
- The couple sexually consummated the marriage through cohabitation.
- You must have met all of the foregoing requirements before January 1, 1997.
Georgia has never offered same-sex common law marriage. By the time same-sex marriage finally became legal in Georgia (2015), Georgia had already abolished common law marriage for more than 18 years.
Does Georgia Recognize Common Law Marriages From Other States?
Yes, it does. Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution, it more or less has to. Generally speaking, states are required to honor the judgments that come from other states. There are many exceptions and nuances to this doctrine, but the point largely holds true in this context.
Facts and Myths About Common Law Marriage
Following are some facts about common law marriages that should clear up some prominent misconceptions:
- Most states no longer recognize new common law marriages. Georgia is typical in this regard.
- Simply living together is not enough to establish a common law marriage, no matter how long you have lived together.
- There is no 50/50 split of assets. It is very dangerous to assume otherwise, especially if you intend to pay 50% of a residence that your common law partner will hold exclusive title to.
- Neither spouse in a common law marriage needs to legally adopt a child the couple had together.
- You do not automatically inherit your common law spouse’s assets when they die. You only inherit this property after you prove the validity of your marriage.
- You must prove the validity of your common law marriage to prevent your spouse’s family from excluding you from medical decision-making on behalf of your spouse.
- If you seek to divorce your common law partner, you must divorce in the same manner as legally married couples do. There is no special divorce for common law spouses. The irony is that Georgia might demand that you prove your marriage before they will allow you to divorce.
In case you find out too late that your common law marriage is not legally valid, keep in mind that Georgia does not recognize “palimony” (alimony for a former cohabitating financial dependent).
Understanding Relationship Boundaries in Georgia Family Law
Relationship legalities can be intricate. While considering common law marriage claims in Georgia, having a knowledgeable lawyer can provide clear guidance and representation.
Contact the Georgia Family Law Firm of Bardley McKnight Law for Help Today
We proudly serve Douglas County and its surrounding areas:
Law Firm of Bardley McKnight Law Offices
12461 Veterans Memorial Hwy, Suite 470
Douglasville, GA 30134