Is Your Long-Term Relationship a Common-Law Marriage in Georgia?

Have you ever wondered if being with your partner for years, sharing a home, and intertwining your lives means you’re in a common-law marriage? Surprisingly, the answer might not be as straightforward as it seems. 

Like many other states, Georgia’s view on common-law marriages has evolved over the years. Let’s unravel the intricacies of common-law marriage in Georgia and understand what it means for couples who’ve built a life together.

The Evolution of Common-Law Marriages: A Brief History

Common-law marriages trace their roots back to medieval Europe, where formal ceremonies were not always feasible or accessible. In this historical context, couples who lived together, shared responsibilities, and presented themselves as married were, over time, recognized as legally bound.

As societies evolved, common-law marriages provided a pragmatic solution for couples facing various constraints, such as distance from religious institutions or legal authorities. The concept migrated to the Americas with the early colonists, where the need for flexibility in recognizing unions persisted.

The rationale behind common-law marriages was to acknowledge and protect relationships that functioned as marriages in every sense, even without the conventional ceremony. It was a recognition of the practicalities of life, offering legal standing and benefits to couples who had committed to a shared life.

Over the years, legal systems adapted, and many jurisdictions, including the majority of states in the U.S., developed specific requirements to regulate common-law marriages. This evolution aimed to strike a balance between societal shifts and the need for legal clarity in recognizing relationships.

In contemporary times, common-law marriages are viewed differently across various jurisdictions. Some states, like Georgia, impose specific criteria for recognition, while others have abolished the practice altogether. Understanding this historical context sheds light on the nuanced nature of common-law marriages and their place in today’s legal landscape.

Georgia’s Take on Common-Law Marriage

Contrary to popular belief, Georgia does not automatically recognize common-law marriages. Georgia also does not currently allow the formation of common-law marriages, and this prohibition has been in effect since January 1, 1997. Essentially, you cannot establish a common-law marriage in the state of Georgia after this date. However, if a common-law marriage was properly formed in Georgia before January 1, 1997, it will still be recognized as valid.

If you have a valid common-law marriage from another state and you relocate to Georgia, the state must acknowledge your marriage. Georgia courts are obligated to give “full faith and credit” to your common-law marriage, respecting the legal validity it holds in the state where it originated.

Requirements for Common-Law Marriage in Georgia

For a common-law marriage to be valid in Georgia:

  1. Each party should possess the capacity to enter into contracts.
  2. A contractual agreement must exist between both parties. Both partners must have a mutual understanding that they are entering into a marital relationship.
  3. The couple must present themselves to others as a married couple. Both individuals must hold themselves out as spouses to others and cohabit in a manner akin to marriage – fulfilling the condition that the marriage must be consummated.
  4. The marriage should have occurred before January 1, 1997.

Rights and Benefits of Georgia Common-Law Marriage

If the criteria are met, a common-law marriage in Georgia grants the couple the same legal recognition as a formally married couple. This includes sharing ownership of property you both obtain during the relationship, as long as it is included in the agreement you made in the beginning. Also, if you have children together, they can be officially recognized by both of you, just like kids born to married parents, as long as you put it in your initial common-law marriage agreement.

Is a Common-Law Marriage Valid Across State Lines?

While your common-law marriage might be valid in Georgia, it may not be recognized in other states. Your rights will be determined by the other state’s marriage laws, although most states will recognize marriage under the Fair Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Before you move, it’s best to acquaint yourself with the state’s marriage laws and consult with a family law attorney to better understand the legal implications of a relocation.

Ending a Common-Law Marriage

In the old days, if you wanted to end a common-law marriage, you could just go your separate ways. Now, it’s not that simple. Since you’re seen as fully married with rights to shared property and debt, the only way to end a common-law marriage in Georgia is by getting a divorce.

Why You Need a Family Law Attorney for Common-Law Marriages

While you don’t necessarily need an attorney to end a marriage in Georgia, dealing with a common-law marriage can complicate matters. This complication often arises because the couple lacks a marriage license or other official documentation of their marriage. Depending on the specifics of their situation, there might be uncertainty about whether a common-law marriage is truly established.

To navigate these uncertainties and streamline the divorce process, engaging the services of an attorney is frequently a wise decision. Legal representation can assist in ensuring fair treatment for both you and your spouse, and it can help address property and custody matters in the best interests of everyone involved.

Navigating the realm of common-law marriage in Georgia can be difficult, but with the right legal support, you can make informed decisions about your relationship. If you find yourself in need of guidance or facing the complexities of a common-law marriage, don’t hesitate to reach out to The Edwards Law Group. We’re here to provide compassionate support and legal expertise tailored to your unique situation. Your journey through the intricacies of common-law marriage doesn’t have to be daunting – we’re here to help.