Common Law Marriage Requires Regular Divorce

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Recent Events in Divorce and Family Law

If you live in Alabama, you may know someone who has a common-law husband or wife. While only a few states recognize marriages with the absence of an official license, Alabama is no longer one of them.

Before January 1, 2017, you could have avoided the ceremony, the wedding planner, and the reception by showing the following:

  1. That both you and the other person had the capacity to marry, or in other words, the legal right. This means you had attained the legal age and were mentally competent, for example.
  2. That you had intended to marry the other person — obvious as that may seem.
  3. That you also “held yourselves out” to friends, family and community members that you were to be considered husband and wife.

No Time Limit

While Alabama did not specify a minimum period during which you had to live together to be considered a married couple, courts would rely upon joint bank accounts and tax returns along with other mutual obligations if legal common-law marriage proof were necessary; common-law marriages were not usually recognized the first day that a couple moved in together.

Big Changes

That simple path to legal marriage is now over, however, because as of January 1, 2017, Alabama no longer recognizes new common-law marriages. Importantly though, marriages with the absence of an official license that began before that date are unaffected and still considered legal.

Easy Divorce?

Once you are married — with an official license or not — you cannot get what some would call a common-law divorce. Yes, you may have held out that you were married, and while you may have met the other two requirements, you cannot merely hold out that you are now divorced. A common-law marriage can only be dissolved the same way a traditional marriage would be — with a court order.

A Little More Difficult

The legal divorce process for a common-law married couple can be identical to that of a traditionally married couple with one major exception: The common-law couple first must prove to the court that they are indeed married before they will be granted a divorce.


The common-law route may have been a relatively easy road to marriage for some, but an exit needs to be done the traditional way with the blessing of the court. If you are considering divorce — whether you are a common-law couple or if you have married conventionally — call me at 251-445-0891 or email me at I can help.