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Alabama Common Law Marriage

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common-law marriage is an informal marital union between consenting adults who live as "husband and wife" without getting a license or conducting a ceremony in Alabama. Common law married couples skip the traditional process of completing an Alabama Marriage Certificate form. Unlike conventional marriages, common-law marriages do not have records in an Alabama probate court.

Common-law partners enjoy similar benefits as traditionally married spouses, including spousal support, child custody rights, and nationwide marriage recognition. Common-law couples can also access social security benefits, insurance, and possibly inherit property when a partner dies.

The disadvantages of common law marriages typically occur because the union can be hard to establish. Because of the informal nature of such marriages, proving that a marriage existed can be difficult when a dispute arises. Common law married couples stand a risk of losing property or inheritance when a spouse is deceased.

Does Alabama Recognize Common Law Marriage?

Alabama does not recognize common-law marriages established in the state after January 1st, 2017. However, the state recognizes the union of common law married couples who established their marriages legally in states that recognize this type of union, including Texas, Iowa, Montana, Colorado, South Carolina, Kansa, and Utah.

Any common-law couple from these states will have their marriage respected and accorded all legal rights of conventional married couples in Alabama. Alabama does not allow civil unions or reciprocal beneficiaries. However, individuals can enter into a domestic partnership as a regular contractual agreement. The state does not give any rights or benefits to domestic partners other than items stipulated in the contract agreement.

What are the Requirements for a Common Law Marriage in Alabama?

Alabama does not permit common-law marriages. The state only recognizes spouses with a marriage license, unless the couple established their union in the state before January 1st, 2017. However, the state acknowledges common-law marriages formed in other states where such marriages are legally permissible. The requirements for a common-law marriage in states where it is allowed are generally the same. For couples who established their common-law union in Alabama before January 1st, 2017, the requirements include:

  • The partners in the relationship must be old enough to marry. The legal age to marry in Alabama is 18 years. Individuals younger than 18years but not younger than 16 years can marry with consent from eligible guardians.
  • The individuals must not be in any marriage with a third party.
  • The partners must have agreed to be common-law married.
  • The couple must hold themselves out as husband and wife in their community.

How Many Years Do You Have to Live Together for Common Law Marriage in Alabama?

Alabama does not allow common law marriages irrespective of the time a couple spent cohabiting. Before the state abolished such informal marital unions, there was no required number of years for a couple to live together to validate their marriage. A couple could have been living together for days or years to no effect on marital status. As long as they meet the requirements, the couple could be common law married.

What Does It Mean to Be Legally Free to Marry in Alabama?

In Alabama, not everyone is legally free to marry. As a matter of policy, the state only considers marriage a union between a man and a woman. The persons involved must also be of legal age to marry, which is 18years or 16years with the consent of a legal guardian. An individual in another marriage cannot marry someone else until there is a divorce. The state also does not allow the marriage of blood relatives. Alabama considers a contracted marriage between persons of the same sex in the state to be invalid. However, in 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of nationwide recognition for same-sex marriages. The ruling means that though same-sex couples cannot marry in the state, Alabama would recognize same-sex marriages established legally in other states.

What is Intent to Marry in Alabama?

Intent to marry in Alabama refers to the declaration of the partners that they understand the commitment and have chosen to go ahead with the marriage of their own volition. The verbal pronouncement of intent is typically an integral part of traditional marriage ceremonies. A letter of intent to marry is usually a requirement for immigrants seeking to get a U.S residence visa via marriage. Alabama does not require a written document showing intention to marry.

What is an Informal Marriage in Alabama?

An informal marriage in Alabama is an unlicensed unofficial marital union between two people. Alabama does not permit it. An informal marriage is the same as a common-law marriage where partners of the relationship hold themselves out as married. In the state of Texas, common-law marriages are called informal marriages.

How Do You Prove Common Law Marriage in Alabama?

To prove common-law marriages in Alabama, partners would need to provide documents that support the union's existence. Though Alabama no longer allows common-law marriages, such unions established in the state before January 1st, 2017, are acceptable. Proving a common law marriage can be difficult considering its unofficial nature. In the event of a legal dispute, a court would rely on the testimony of the partners involved and supporting documents. Some things that can aid in validating claims that a common law marriage exists include:

  • Wearing wedding rings
  • A document showing that a spouse took the partner's name
  • Documents showing joint leases
  • Filing joint tax returns
  • A birth certificate naming the couple as parents of a child
  • Documents evidencing jointly financed mortgages and loans
  • Proof that the partners share household expenses
  • Documents showing that the couple have a joint bank account
  • Documents proving the couple share a residence
  • Any form of a signed agreement between the couple, including an affidavit
  • Social security documents that indicate that the other partner is a beneficiary
  • Insurance policies that name the partner as beneficiaries

Having the above documents would help prove common law marriage, giving partners rights to traditional marital benefits. Couples who can substantiate their union in other states where it is legal have full access to marriage benefits in Alabama.

Third-party websites sometimes provide an alternative option for obtaining public vital records. These non-governmental platforms come with intuitive search tools that help simplify the process of accessing single or multiple records. However, record availability on third-party sites tends to vary because they’re independent of government sources. To obtain public marriage records, requesters may need to provide:

  • The full name of both spouses (include first, middle, and last names)
  • The date the marriage occurred (month, date and year)
  • The location where the marriage occurred (city and county)

How Do You Prove Common Law Marriage in Alabama After Death?

In Alabama, to prove common-law marriage after death, widowed partners would be required to provide supporting documents. Along with the surviving partner's testimony, statements from the deceased's relatives would help prove common law marriage in Alabama. These would enable the widow or widower to claim benefits such as life insurance benefits, inheritance, and other properties. Making claims is easier if the deceased had a will naming the common-law spouse as beneficiary.

Do Common Law Marriages Require a Divorce?

Yes, common-law marriages require a divorce in Alabama. Common law marriages established in the state before January 1st, 2017, are legal, and legal marriages require a divorce to dissolve. There is no such thing as a common-law divorce. The process of divorce for a traditionally married couple is the same for common law married couples.

Individuals who were informally married outside Alabama would still require a divorce to dissolve their marriage in the state.

Though Alabama no longer allows common-law marriages in the state, interested persons can get a divorce from a common-law marriage in the state.

Does a Common-Law Wife Have Rights in Alabama?

A wife married by common law in Alabama before January 1st, 2017, has marriage rights in the state. Similarly, common-law wives who established their union legally outside the state have marital rights in Alabama. However, since the state no longer permits common-law marriages, common-law married partners have no marital rights in the state.

Unless the common-law couple has a signed agreement, the partners are not entitled to anything after Alabama abolished informal marital unions. As with regular contractual agreements, individuals have rights to items stated in the agreement document. If a marriage is established legally in the state, the couple is entitled to all marriage rights in Alabama. These rights include child custody and alimony.

Can a Common Law Wife Collect Social Security in Alabama?

Common law wives can collect social security benefits in Alabama as long as the union is legal. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has requirements that a common-law married couple must fulfill, without which partners cannot access benefits. These requirements include filling out a Statement of Marital Relationship Form. Some of the information the partner provides through the statement of marital relationship form include:

  • How long the partners have spent living together
  • Social security number of the working partner
  • Name of spouse
  • If there was an understanding about the relationship when the couple began living together
  • If the couple knew how long they would live together
  • How the partners introduced themselves to friends, family, and neighbors
  • If the couple has any children born to the marriage
  • State and town where the partners lived together
  • The date when the couple began living as husband and wife
  • If there was any form of a marital agreement
  • Information on previous marriages, if any
  • If there has been a name change
  • If there were any joint business dealings
  • A list of people who lived with the couple during the marriage
  • A list of people who know about the relationship.

The SSA also requires that a blood relative of the spouse provides a statement regarding marriage. This statement from the relative can give credence to the common law marriage. The SSA uses all the information it gathers from the spouses and relatives to assess the eligibility of the partners for social security benefits.

Are Common Law Wives Entitled to Half in Alabama?

Common law wives are not entitled to half in Alabama because informal marriages are not allowed in Alabama. Common-law couples would get similar alimony rights as conventional married partners if the marriage existed before January 1st, 2017. Likewise, legitimate common-law couples from other states like Texas, Montana, Iowa, and Kansas are entitled to all divorce rights individuals legally married have in the state. New common law married couples in the state are only entitled to half of the property if the partners have a written and signed agreement that gives them access to half. A prenuptial agreement usually helps to solve entitlement disputes in the event of marriage dissolution.

Note: Alabama's civil laws do not necessarily entitle marriage partners to half in a divorce. The state uses a system of equitable distribution where the court tries to give a fair judgment. This way, individuals can walk away with the separately owned property. Some of the factors that influence property distribution in a divorce include duration of the marriage, which party has custody of the children, individual capacity to earn. In some cases, the court considers damaging behavior such as infidelity and abuse leading to divorces during property division.

How Do You Get a Common-Law Marriage Affidavit in Alabama?

Alabama no longer allows common-law marriages, so partners cannot obtain a common-law marriage affidavit in the state. That said, couples who established their informal marital union in other states legally can get a common-law affidavit in those states. These states include Kansas, Iowa, Montana, Colorado, South Carolina, and Texas. The information required for a common-law marriage affidavit generally include the following:

  • The state the couple was residing when they entered into a common-law marriage
  • If the partners are of legal age to marry
  • The date of marital union establishment
  • If the individuals are known as a married couple in their community
  • If any of the partners in the union was previously married
  • If the partners have property titled jointly

Interested persons can file common-law marriage affidavits with the relevant county clerks.

The common-law marriage affidavit could serve the purpose of a marriage certificate in authenticating the union. Couples can present such an affidavit in other states where common-law marriages are not allowed and be recognized as married.

When Did Common Law Marriage End in Alabama?

Common-law marriage in Alabama ended in 2016 when the state abolished that kind of marital union. Starting from January 1st, 2017, the state no longer recognizes any such informal marriages according to the Alabama code § 30-1-20(a) (2016). As of 2021, individuals who wish to validate their common law marriage cannot do so in Alabama. They can marry in other states like Montana, Iowa, Colorado, South Carolina, Kansas, and Texas.

Note: Common-law marriages of individuals who entered into the union before January 1st, 2017 are still valid in the state. Also, the state respects the marriages of persons common law married legally outside Alabama.

What is Considered Common Law Marriage in Alabama?

In Alabama, informal marital unions without a marriage license before January 1st, 2017, are considered common-law marriages. In common-law marriages, the couple holds themselves out as married without going through any official process or documentation in the state. As of January 1st, 2017, the state only considers such unions established in other jurisdictions legally as common-law marriages. Presently, among marital unions entered into in Alabama, the state only recognizes the marriages of traditionally married couples.

Some states recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships, and reciprocal beneficiaries, but Alabama does not allow such unofficial marriages. The rights and privileges that come with marriage are exclusive to traditionally married couples in Alabama.

Does the Federal Government Recognize Alabama Common Law Marriages?

The federal government recognizes common-law marriages established before January 1st, 2017, in Alabama. Since Alabama no longer grants legal status to common law marriages in the state, the federal government will not recognize any such marital union. However, the federal government will recognize a marriage established under common law in states that allow such marriages.