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Common-Law Marriage in North Carolina

The majority of couples in the U.S. get married by getting a marriage license and having a civil or religious wedding ceremony. However, some states recognize common-law marriage that does not require a marriage license. Common-law marriage can qualify as a legal marriage when the couple meets certain requirements. 

Even though most states do not recognize common-law marriage, if a couple is considered married under common-law in a state where it is valid, the couple would then be considered legally married in other U.S. states, even if the other states do not recognize common-law marriage. 

There is a lot of confusion surrounding common-law marriages in the U.S. when they become valid, and divorcing after a common-law marriage. If you have questions about common-law marriage in North Carolina, talk to your North Carolina family law attorney for answers.

Does North Carolina Recognize Common-Law Marriage? 

North Carolina is not a common-law marriage state. Couples in North Carolina who want to get married have to go through the official process of getting a marriage license from the state and meeting all the necessary requirements. 

Does South Carolina Recognize Common-Law Marriage?


On July 24, 2019, South Carolina eliminated the recognition of common-law marriage. Those who qualified as married under common-law prior to July 24, 2019, may still be considered married. However, unmarried couples in South Carolina can no longer become married under common-law.  

What States Recognize Common-Law Marriage?


There is only a small number of states that continue to recognize common-law marriage, including Kansas, Texas, the District of Columbia, Montana, and Utah. These states may have their own specific requirements for common-law marriage, but the requirements are not always so clear. 

For example, common-law marriage in Kansas generally requires the couple are at least 18 years of age, and both parties: 

  1. Have the capacity to marry; 
  2. Have a present marriage agreement; and 
  3. Are presenting each other as husband and wife to the public. 

Misconceptions About Common-Law Marriage

There are a number of misconceptions and confusing aspects of common-law marriage. For example, some people believe that by living together for a certain amount of time, the couple is considered married under common-law. However, there is usually a requirement for a couple to present themselves as married to the public. 

Similarly, under such common-law marriage laws as in Kansas, both parties have to have a marriage agreement. If one party never wants to get married, never agrees to get married, and does not present themselves out in public as married to the other party, the couple would not likely be considered married under common-law. 

When a Common-Law Married Couple Moves to North Carolina 

Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, common-law marriage in another state must be recognized in other states. This means that if a couple is considered married under common-law in a state like Texas or Montana, the couple would be considered legally married when the couple was in North Carolina. 

For example, a couple in Utah meets the requirements for common-law marriage while residing in Utah. The wife gets a job in Raleigh and the couple moves to North Carolina. When signing up for medical benefits for the couple, the wife puts her husband's information into the form. A co-worker finds out the couple never had a wedding ceremony and reports the couple as being unmarried. However, because the couple's marriage was considered legal in Utah, North Carolina will recognize the marriage as legal even though North Carolina does not recognize common-law marriage. 

Is There Common-Law Divorce?

There is no option for common-law divorce in any state in the U.S. If a couple was married through common-law or through a marriage license and ceremony, the couple will have to get a legal divorce to separate. Living apart and claiming to no longer be married does not qualify as a legal separation. The couple would still be considered legally married until they got a legal divorce.

A divorce in North Carolina requires the couple to be physically separated for at least one year and at least one spouse has to have resided in North Carolina for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. 

Shelby, North Carolina Family Law Attorneys

Individuals looking to separate may be unsure if they were considered married when living together as a married couple in another state but without a formal wedding. This can require individuals to get a formal divorce in order to separate. Anyone with questions about common-law marriage and how it may affect their divorce rights can benefit from the experienced legal advice that the skilled attorneys at Caulder & Valentine have to offer. Contact us today for a consultation.

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