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Common-Law Marriage (and Divorce) in Georgia

Getting married isn't all about emotions, love, and finding your soulmate. It's also a practical, legal decision. A marriage is essentially a contract, and with any legal contract, both parties are subject to consequences if that contract is broken. Many couples make sure that everything is above board and legal by getting a marriage license and going through a ceremony. A common law marriage is a marriage where two people live like they are married and hold out to the public that they are married when in fact they never got a license or had a ceremony.

Is This Actually Legal In Georgia?

Yes and no. Georgia officially ended common law marriage as of January 1, 1997. If you had established a common-law marriage prior to that date, then Georgia still recognizes it. Otherwise, you have no legal standing and are merely cohabitating. 

The only exception is if you were recognized as a common-law marriage and moved to Georgia. The state will acknowledge your marriage no matter when it was established.

The only states that currently recognize common-law marriages are Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. The District of Columbia does as well. New Hampshire does but only if there is an inheritance issue.

Common-Law Marriage Before 1997

Not everyone who lives together meets the criteria for a common-law marriage. Before 1997, there were four criteria that had to be met to be considered a legal common law marriage:

  • you had to be a heterosexual couple (same-sex marriage was not legal in Georgia at that time) living together
  • you had to cohabitate for a significant period of time
  • you had to have the intention to get married at some point
  • you had to hold yourself out as a married couple

Holding yourself out means you had to present yourself to the world as a married couple. Married couples often share a last name, might have joint bank accounts or file joint tax returns, or even refer to each other as "my wife" or "my husband".

Why This Is Important

common law marriage

If you are in a common-law marriage, you have to go through a formal divorce proceeding if you want to end the relationship. That means you will have to go through a formal division of property and assets, as well as deciding who gets custody of any children.

A couple in a common-law marriage has all the rights and responsibilities of a couple who have gotten married in a more traditional way. 

Common-law marriage is a difficult legal concept for many people. It's very important that if you are in this situation that you need to know your rights or want a divorce that you talk to an experienced attorney.

Family Matters Law Group has earned successful outcomes for clients across the Atlanta metro area. If you are in a common-law marriage (or think you might be) in Henry, Clayton, or Fayette counties, contact our office and let's discuss your legal rights including legal separation in Georgia. We're ready to hear your story!

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