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Common Law Marriage in Alabama Ending in 2017

Does Alabama Recognize Common Law Marriage?

The AL legislature abolished common law marriages, effective January 1, 2017. Problems sometimes occur when only one party acknowledges the relationship as a marriage, particularly as it relates to marital benefits. In these instances, the courts are challenged to make a determination of validity, which invites evidence that may be largely speculative and open to interpretation.

When thinking of marriage in the traditional sense, there are two components that come to mind. There would be a ceremony conducted by a public or religious official, and a marriage license would be established. A common law marriage is a relationship with the absence of those two elements.

Representative Mike Jones (Andalusia) introduced the bill and Governor Bentley has signed it into law. Common law marriages achieved prior to 2017 shall remain valid.

Marriage Requirements in AL

  • Those that are 16 or 17 years old must present their birth certificates and be accompanied by both parents; if a parent(s) is deceased, evidence of such must be provided.
  • Those that are 18 years of age must provide a governmentally issued picture ID and pay a filing fee.
  • Once the license is provided, it must be completed by the individual performing the ceremony (or court representative) and returned within 30 days.
  • Probate Court staff records the marriage, and the license may be used to execute changing of a name.

Elements of Common Law Marriage

These unions are legally recognized despite the lack of a marriage license. The law requires that both individuals have the mental capacity to enter this union, show marital intent, and acknowledge the marriage publicly. There is not a fixed threshold of time that the couple must cohabitate to establish this type of marriage. Lawmakers cite difficulties when one party denies the marriage’s existence and courts must seek documentation such as joint bank accounts and property ownership as proof. The remaining states that recognize new common law marriages are Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington D.C.

Eligibility for Retirement & Death Benefits

The question of whether a common law spouse of police and firefighters is entitled to benefits of active or retired plan participants is clearly addressed in Alabama law. Spouses are required to produce evidence of a marriage license, and children must provide birth certificates as evidence. The retirement board is responsible for confirming or denying eligibility for benefits in common law situations. They may require affidavits from people that can acknowledge the marriage and may involve indemnification and agreements to hold harmless.

Many matters involving cases of family law are often emotional and challenging. At the Guster Law Firm, LLC, we clearly recognize the importance of sensitivity in resolving such issues. We have been assisting clients in Birmingham for many years with a wide range of actions.

Contact our office today at (205) 581-9777 for a complimentary consultation.


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