Common Law Marriage in North Carolina

Does North Carolina recognize Common Law marriages? The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe.

common law marriage

Several states still recognize common law marriage, North Carolina is not one those states. A Common Law marriage is a term used for a marriage that is considered to exist between two parties but was not performed by an ordained minister or magistrate.

So what about common law marriage in North Carolina?

North Carolina is governed by NCGS §51-1 which states a marriage may only be created with the consent of both parties and in the presence of an ordained minister or magistrate. This is where the long answer applies. In some instances, a North Carolina Court may recognize a common law marriage if the parties were common law married in another state, and subsequently moved to North Carolina. There are several factors the Court will consider including: 1) whether the couple cohabitated in the different state, 2) whether the different state recognizes common law marriage, and 3) the date the common law marriage began in North Carolina.

It’s important to establish common law marriage, if applicable, because it allows the parties to divorce in North Carolina and allows the parties to seek recourse during a divorce including spousal support and equitable distribution. However, parties who establish a legally valid common law marriage in NC, must follow the normal process to obtain a divorce from a North Carolina court.

If you don’t quality for a common law marriage in NC, what can you do? If an unmarried couple enters into a contract, North Carolina Courts have generally enforced the terms of those contracts under contract law. Parties who live together can contract for certain things, like property, and that can be an enforceable contract claim. The caveat is that you cannot contract for sexual services, those contracts are not enforceable.

Finally, some states recognize what is called “palimony.” While it is not a legal term, it is generally understood to mean the support paid by an unmarried person to their former cohabitant. North Carolina does not recognize this doctrine, which is not too surprising as common law marriage is generally not recognized.

If you have a question about a common law marriage in North Carolina or another family law, divorce, or custody question, give us a call.