Understanding Common Law Marriage in North Carolina

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be “common law married” in North Carolina. Some couples believe that if they are together for a particular length of time, this automatically makes them common law married, and in being so, they have certain legal rights as a couple. But is this true? And what does common law marriage really mean?

What is Common Law marriage?

If a couple lives together and presents themselves as husband and wife, they are considered to be married under common law. This means is that the State will recognize them as a married couple despite a marriage ceremony never having taken place. If a cohabiting couple chooses not to refer to themselves or present themselves as a married couple, some jurisdictions will still recognize them as married whether they decide to claim that they are or not.

North Carolina, however, does not recognize common law marriage. So even if a couple claims to be married because they cohabit, they are not considered to be so under state law.

Statutory Marriage

State statute 51-1 explains that North Carolina does not, and never has recognized common law marriage. Like the majority of states in the US, they instead only recognize “Statutory Marriage,” which is the traditional marriage and regulated through official legal code. A statutory marriage is one which is performed in the presence of an ordained minister of any religious denomination or a magistrate, and the minister or magistrate must declare that the parties are husband and wife.

Are there any exceptions where common law marriage might be recognized in North Carolina?

There are a few circumstances in which a common law marriage would be upheld under North Carolina law. These are:

  1. If a couple has Power of Attorney for one another. If a couple each has Power of Attorney for the other, this enters them into a contractual relationship which could mean that common law marriage is then recognized. However, there is still a possibility that this could be contested and overruled in court.
  2. If a couple moves to North Carolina from a state where common law marriage is recognized, then North Carolina will continue to accept the validity of the marriage. However, some conditions need to be met:
    • The out of State Common Law Marriage must have been recognized by the state in which the cohabitation existed.
    • The Court of North Carolina must be able to establish a date that the declaration of Common Law Marriage began.

How can you divorce someone you are common law married to?

The divorce process for common law married couples is the same as those who have a statutory marriage. Enforceable rights to alimony, child support, and property division will all have to be considered and agreed or ruled upon in court if no agreement between the couple is reached.

Do you need Legal counsel around common law marriage?

If you have any questions or need advice around common law marriage the professional lawyers at N.C. Adoption Law Centre can help guide you through the process. Get in touch for a free consultation today!

Written by N.C. Adoption Law Center

N.C. Adoption Law Center

We work hard to provide all our clients with the best and and most helpful legal services. Our attorneys specialize in adoption and other family law cases including divorce, child custody, child support, guardianship, and more.