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Common Law Marriage in South Carolina

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | Sep 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

Common law marriage is something many people have heard of, but may not fully understand. Though many states have abolished the concept, South Carolina continues to allow for couples to be common law married if they meet certain criteria. To find out more about common law marriages, what they mean, and how they are formed, keep reading.

What is common law marriage?

A common law marriage is a marriage where the couple lives together for some period of time (though contrary to popular belief there is no “magic length” of time required) and holds themselves out as being married to friends, family, coworkers, and the rest of the world. This differs from a traditional wedding in that the people never actually had a formal wedding ceremony or received a marriage license. So despite there being no “legal” paperwork, their actions created the marriage.

How common is common law marriage?

Common law marriage dates back a long time in the U.S., with the earliest cases recognizing the concept appearing in the 1870s. Though many states have now abolished the concept, 10 states (including South Carolina) still allow common law marriages, while 5 other states recognize common law marriages in some limited cases.

What are the requirements for a common law marriage in South Carolina?

To be common law married in South Carolina, a person must meet several requirements:

  1. Both parties must be free to marry, meaning they cannot currently be married to another person.
  2. The parties must both be at least 16 years old.
  3. There must be an agreement and intention between the two to be married, but no actual ceremony is required.
  4. The parties must live together or, as the law says, cohabitate. It's important to note that there is technically no time limit, meaning a couple could live together for a day and fulfill the requirement of a common law marriage.
  5. Both parties must hold their relationships out to the world as a marriage. This can happen by filing joint taxes, sharing insurance benefits, designating the other as a beneficiary,referring to each other as huband and wife, and many other things.

Important points to remember

It's important to understand that common law marriages are seen as having exactly the same weight and effect as a normal marriage. That means that those in common law marriages are entitled to the same benefits, including potentially spousal support, as those who have gone through a traditional church wedding and signed a marriage license.

Equally important to understand is that there is no such thing as “common law divorce.” Put another way, you can't simply renounce your marriage and go your separate ways. If you are married, common law or otherwise, you must go through a formal legal divorce and follow the same procedure as “formally married couples” if you wish to end your marriage.

About the Author

J. Benjamin Stevens

Senior Partner


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