Enforcing Out-of-State ‘Common Law’ Marriages in Georgia

If you relocated to Georgia with your ‘significant other,’ a Georgia court may find that even though the two of you never had an official ceremony or obtained a marriage license, he or she may still be your “husband” or “wife” – and entitled to all the benefits and burdens that come along with the title.

Recently, in Norman v. Ault, No. S10F0874, the Georgia Supreme Court emphasized that despite the statute that discontinued ‘common law’ marriages created within Georgia after January 1, 1997, Georgia courts still enforce ‘common law’ marriages “established under the laws of another state.”

The case involved Debbie Jean Ault and James A. Norman, whom, at least according to Debbie, had entered into a ‘common law’ marriage in Alabama, before they relocated together to Georgia.

Details of Common Law Marriage Case in Georgia

Though they never officially married, in her case against her former beau, Ms. Ault sought a “divorce, alimony, and an equitable division of the parties’ assets and debts.”  At trial, Debbie presented evidence that the parties had cohabitated (during which they shared a bedroom and split the household chores), had publicly referred to each other as the other’s “spouse,” and had engaged in sexual relations exclusively with one another.  At one point, it even appears that a deed had been executed, in which property was conveyed to Mr. Norman, his daughter, and his “Wife, Debbie J. Norman.”

Though James vigorously disagreed that these facts suggested that the parties had entered into a ‘common law’ marriage, the court found that, in light of all the evidence presented that Mr. Norman had, in fact, intended to enter into such a marriage in Alabama.  Ms. Ault was awarded $54,000 as lump sum alimony.

Based on Georgia law, if you relocated here from a jurisdiction that recognizes ‘common law’ marriages, you may still found to be in such a marriage.  Whether a Georgia court will find that your relationship rises to the level of a ‘common law’ marriage depends on the particular facts of your case and the law of the state/country in which your ‘common law’ marriage was potentially created.  Keep in mind that even if you did not relocate to Georgia from elsewhere, you may still have a ‘common law’ spouse if your relationship pre-dates January 1, 1997.

Presently, in the U.S., common law marriages can be created in Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, and the District of Columbia.

Contact one of our Atlanta Family Law Attorneys  if you need assistance in assessing your potential rights and responsibilities in light of Georgia’s stance on ‘common law’ marriages.

*Special Thanks to Candice Blain for her contribution to this article*