Common Law Marriage in Georgia: What You Need to Know

Marriage is a big step in a person’s life on both a sentimental level and a practical, legal level. Can you imagine getting married and being committed to all of marriage’s pros and cons without your knowledge? This has happened to countless couples through a legal practice called common law marriage. Our attorneys at Oxendine Law specialize in divorce law and family law, and that includes the interesting quirks of common law marriage.

What is Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is a situation in which a state considers a couple to be legally married if they are living together and regard each other as spouses, even though they never received a marriage license or completed a wedding ceremony. The common law marriage only occurs if there are no factors that would prevent the couple from marrying, such as existing marriages to other people. When a couple is married by common law, they have all the legal benefits and liabilities as a couple who received a marriage license and completed a traditional wedding ceremony. For instance, any property either person acquires during their common law marriage is legally shared property.

Does Common Law Marriage Exist in Georgia?

According to the US Constitution, each state has the right to make their own laws about marriage. As a result, common law marriage only exists in some states. Georgia used to have common law marriage, but the law ended on January 1, 1997. By today’s law, a couple needs to go through the traditional route of a marriage license and ceremony to become legally married.

There are some exceptions, however. If you were considered to be in a common law marriage in Georgia before January 1997, the state still considers you to be legally married. Georgia also recognizes you as married if you and your partner were in a common law marriage in another state before you moved to Georgia. For example, let’s say Bob and Susan used to live in Texas, where common law marriage is legal. They lived together and met the state’s criteria for common law married, so they were considered to be married in the state of Texas. Then, they moved to Georgia in 2000. According to the law, Bob and Susan are still legally married today in Georgia.

How Does Common Law Marriage Affect Property Division?

If a couple is married through common law marriage, they will remain married in the eyes of the state until they get a legal divorce. Divorcing after a common law marriage is the same as divorcing from a traditional marriage. If you are considered to be married based on the exceptions above, you are entitled to a fair division of assets if you and your common law spouse end your marriage. On the other hand, let’s say you’ve been in a committed, cohabitating relationship with someone since 1998. You may “feel” married to them on an emotional level and you may have established a household together, but in legal terms, each person’s property remains separate and neither of you are entitled to spousal support.

Common law marriage is an aspect of family law that most people don’t thoroughly understand. While the information above can serve as a helpful crash course, there are also nuances and special circumstances to consider in any legal case, and that includes common law marriage. If you’re planning to end a long-term relationship, it’s always helpful to speak with a divorce attorney about your situation and your options. For answers about your distinct needs, contact the experienced divorce and family law attorneys at Oxendine Law.