How Does Common Law Marriage Work in South Carolina?

One of the most often discussed but least often understood topics in Family Law is the common law marriage. A common law marriage refers to couples who consider themselves to be married but never actually executed a proper marriage license. The term has its origins going back centuries, to when the cost of traveling to a courthouse prohibited some couples from getting married. Like most other forms of marriage, it becomes legally relevant when a couple is getting divorced or one member has passed away.

Common law marriage in modern times became an option for couples who did not have the time or resources to get married and have a ceremony. A common misconception is that a couple would have to live together a specific amount of time in order to be considered common law married. In actuality, the validity was based on how a couple viewed and presented themselves. Proof would come from how they introduced themselves to others, how they file their taxes, and even what sort of birthday cards they give each other.

On July 24th, 2019, South Carolina officially abolished common law marriage. The official ruling stated that common law marriage’s “foundations have eroded with the passage of time, and the outcomes it produces are unpredictable and often convoluted.” South Carolina was far from the first state to get rid of common law marriage. In fact, only seven states still keep it as a legally valid form of marriage.

Importantly, the ruling did not double back and make previous common law marriages invalid. If you are currently a part of a common law marriage in South Carolina that began before July 24th, 2019, your marriage is technically still valid. It is always helpful to have a marriage statement that both you and your spouse sign, especially if it is notarized and drafted by a lawyer. In general, previous common law marriages are still intact, but it is not an option for anyone going forward.

If couples want to get married in South Carolina now, you need to get a marriage license from a courthouse. You do not need to have a formal wedding ceremony, or even to dress up when you go to the courthouse. Your wedding can be a quick trip that you make with your loved one. Couples only have to obtain a marriage license and have it approved if they want to enjoy the benefits of marriage, such as tax breaks, sharing health insurance, and receiving financial support in the event of a divorce.

Although common law marriage no longer exists in South Carolina, there are still cheap and quick methods for a couple to be legally married. Contact Cate & Brough today for any help with your family legal matters, including if you were in a common law marriage and are unsure of your current status. Call us at 864-585-4226 to schedule a consultation!

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Cate & Brough, P.A.

At Cate & Brough, we all have personal experience with family law and family court. We know more than just what the law says about your issue – we know what you are going through.

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