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What is the status of common law marriage in Alabama?

Can you get married without a license? There is a type of legal arrangement called a common law marriage that allows people to do that. However, only a handful of states in the country still recognize new common law marriages.

Alabama was one of those states until a few years ago. According to AL.com, Alabama passed a law in summer of 2016 abolishing new common law marriages that took effect as of Jan. 1st, 2017. However, the law did not affect the validity of unions entered into prior to that date.

What is a common law marriage?

Different states have their own definitions of common law marriages. Even in states that still allow new common law marriages, it does not automatically happen when two people live together for a certain amount of time. The length of the relationship is a factor, but there is no set amount of time that a couple must live together.

Before the abolition of new common law marriages, couples in Alabama became eligible by presenting themselves to others as a married couple, e.g. by wearing rings or having the same last name. They also had to demonstrate the mental capacity to enter into a union.

Why is common law marriage no longer legal in Alabama?

Common law marriage causes legal difficulties when the relationship comes to an end. If one spouse dies without a will, it can be difficult to determine inheritance rights. The issue can become even more muddled if a couple decides to end their relationship. One partner may claim alimony on the grounds that a common law marriage existed. The other may counter that there was no common law marriage, and therefore there should be no alimony obligation. It then falls to the courts to examine evidence such as the couple’s finances to determine whether a common law marriage existed.