Common Law Marriage

New Legislation

On May 3, 2016, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed legislation that will effectively abolish common-law marriage as of Jan. 1, 2017. Those already involved in valid common-law marriages before the cutoff date will still be recognized by the state.

Common Law Marriage Requirements

The following three requirements must be met for a common-law marriage to be valid in the State of Alabama: 1) The couple must be of age and sound mind-capacity to form a common law marriage: 2) The couple must show a present and mutual agreement to permanently enter into an exclusive marriage relationship; and finally 3) The couple must present themselves to the public as being husband and wife and cohabitate. Evidence of a common law marriage could include jointly filed tax returns, joint bank accounts and publicly referring to each other as husband and wife.

Common Law Marriage in Practice

The legal idea of common-law marriage originated in Europe during the Middle Ages, because during the time it was the only means of marriage. It would not be until the 18th century when the British Parliament passed laws regarding the formal process of marriage.

With the change in Alabama's law, the only states with common law marriage are as follows: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. While the concept of common-law marriage still exists at the moment, it is not very common and in some cases lawyers may only see a case or two in their career where it comes up, though never declared judicially.  A claim of common law marriage typically arises after the death of one of the parties with the surviving party claiming a spouse's share of the estate.


Common law marriages are legally cumbersome and lead to confusion and court fights.  The claim of a common-law marriage can impose hardship on family and heirs of a deceased party. Now that anyone can get married, it doesn't make sense to have common law marriage and its termination by the legislature is a good idea.