June 13, 2024

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage, also known as informal marriage, refers to a legal union between two individuals without obtaining a marriage license or going through a formal ceremony. While common law marriage is not recognized in all states, North Carolina is one of the few states that does acknowledge it under specific circumstances.

Requirements for Common Law Marriage in NC

In North Carolina, for a common law marriage to be considered valid, several requirements must be met. First and foremost, the couple must have the intent to be married and present themselves as a married couple to the community. This can be demonstrated by using the same last name, referring to each other as spouses, or filing joint tax returns. Additionally, the couple must be of legal age, typically 18 years or older, and be mentally competent to enter into a marriage.

Proof of Common Law Marriage

Proving the existence of a common law marriage in North Carolina can be challenging, as there is no marriage certificate or license. However, there are certain factors that can help establish the validity of the marriage. These include joint ownership of property, joint bank accounts, and testimony from friends, family, or neighbors who can attest to the couple’s marital relationship.

Benefits and Rights of Common Law Marriage

While common law marriage does not provide all the legal benefits and rights of a formal marriage, it does offer certain protections in North Carolina. For example, common law spouses may have inheritance rights, the ability to make medical decisions for each other, and the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the event of a partner’s death. Additionally, common law spouses may be entitled to spousal support or alimony if the relationship ends.

Recognition of Common Law Marriage in Other States

It is important to note that while North Carolina recognizes common law marriage, not all states do. If a couple in a common law marriage moves to a state where it is not recognized, their marital status may not be acknowledged. It is advisable for couples in a common law marriage to consult with an attorney to understand their legal rights and obligations if they plan to relocate.

Ending a Common Law Marriage

Ending a common law marriage in North Carolina requires the same legal process as ending a formal marriage. The couple must go through a divorce or obtain an annulment to dissolve the marriage. It is essential to consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure all legal requirements are met and to protect your rights during the dissolution process.


While common law marriage is recognized in North Carolina, it is important to understand the requirements and limitations associated with it. Couples considering a common law marriage should consult with a legal professional to ensure their rights are protected and to navigate the complex legal landscape surrounding common law marriage in the state.