A common law marriage in Georgia is one in which the couple lives together for a period of time in Georgia and holds themselves out to friends, family, and the community as “being married,” but without ever going through a formal ceremony or getting a marriage license.
Does Georgia Have Common Law Marriage?
Common law marriages in Georgia were abolished on January 1, 1997.
According to O.C.G.A. § 19-3-1.1, “No common-law marriage shall be entered into in this state on or after January 1, 1997. Otherwise valid common-law marriages entered into prior to January 1, 1997, shall not be affected by this Code section and shall continue to be recognized in this state.”
This basically means that zero common-law marriages will be recognized by the state of Georgia UNLESS the marriage was entered into prior to January 1, 1997.
Does Georgia Recognize Common Law Marriage?
Yes, Georgia does recognize common law marriage if you met the requirements BEFORE the new law went into effect in 1997. If you’re wondering how to prove common law marriage in Georgia, four requirements must generally be met:
- You must live together.
- You both must have the legal right or “capacity to marry”.
- Both must be 18 years old.
- Both must be of sound mind.
- Both must not be married to someone else.
- You both must intend to be married.
- You both must hold yourself out to friends and family as being a married couple.
- Taking the same last name.
- Referring to each other in public as “husband,” “wife,” or “spouse.”
- Holding joint bank accounts/credit cards.
But what if you’re moving to Georgia from another state and want your common law marriage to be recognized?
Although common law marriage is no longer recognized in Georgia, it is still recognized in other states within the United States.
Often, upon relocating to Georgia, many couples who are married by the common law wonder whether their marriage will be recognized under Georgia law.
Although Georgia law on this subject is sparse, the Supreme Court of Georgia’s ruling on the issue is as follows:
“Georgia, like other states not generally recognizing common-law marriages, will recognize as valid a common law marriage established under the laws of another state.” Norman v. Ault, 287 Ga. 324, 326 (2010).
Georgia Common Law Marriage Statute
To be able to get married, both people have to be of ‘sound mind.’ You have to be at least 18 years old. You cannot be related (to a certain degree). You cannot be married already (or separated).
In common law, the ‘marriage contract’ is instated when both people present themselves as a married couple.
The common law marriage in Georgia is consummated by two people continuing to live together.
For common law marriage in Georgia, there was no set number of years that two people had to live together for common law marriage to take effect.
Common Law Marriage Acceptance in Georgia
So, if you believe that you are able to be considered married under common law in Georgia, how do you get recognition for this?
If you are trying to prove that you are eligible for common law marriage in Georgia, then it’s up to you to prove that you met the eligibility requirements BEFORE 1997.
This is the only way that your common law marriage will be recognized by the state.
But once your marriage has been accepted as common law, then you have the same legal rights that any other legally married couple has.
This includes the right to a divorce.
Why Would You Want To Prove Common Law Marriage?
The divorce courts will want to make sure that you meet the common law marriage requirements and that you both presented yourselves to the public as a married couple.
Documentation of common law marriage could be a written agreement or an affidavit signed by both people. (You would have had to use this kind of documentation to get on someone’s insurance plan.)
To prove a common law marriage, the court may require a variety of documentation including but not limited to:
- Joint tax returns;
- Records of joint bank accounts;
- Documentation proving joint ownership of property;
- A will or other estate document referring to the partner as a spouse;
- School records naming both parents as spouses; and/or
- Any document showing one spouse using the surname of the other for themselves.
It is important to prove a common-law marriage when inheriting property, claiming insurance or social security benefits, or getting a divorce.
Spouses terminating a common law marriage must go through the same divorce process as a traditionally married couple.
However, the partner who is trying to obtain property rights or the right to financial support will need to prove that the marriage was valid.
This is really important when you are working on a property settlement. You need to prove that you have rights to the property, especially if it’s only in your spouse’s name.
If either party claims that there was no marriage, the claimant party must prove that both parties intended to be married and a common-law marriage existed.
If this is the case, your spouse probably won’t be signing a Georgia divorce settlement agreement.
This is why many states no longer allow common-law marriages.
If you are being asked to prove or dispute a common-law marriage for any reason, a skilled and knowledgeable divorce attorney would be beneficial to your case.
An experienced divorce attorney can help you understand your state’s laws regarding common-law marriages, and assist you in gathering evidence and documentation to support or defend your position.
This is especially true if you are trying to get a divorce and you need to know how to navigate the divorce laws in Georgia for a common-law marriage.
Imagine trying to get custody of your kids when you’re filing for divorce with children and not being able to because you can’t prove that you were married.
This can make the cost of divorce in Georgia increase significantly due to the research and hours that a lawyer will have to put in to proving that you are, in fact, married.
Additionally, a Georgia divorce attorney can represent you in court as needed.