What does new law mean for common law marriages?

(WIAT) — Common law marriage is no longer legal in Alabama. The practice used to allow for couples who had been together a long time to have their union legally recognized, as long as they had evidence to prove their relationship was one of marriage, including joint tax returns or joint home ownership, as opposed to an official wedding license.

“It’s always been complicated, it’s going to continue to be complicated,” said Ashleigh Dunham with Magic City Law. “The only thing that makes it a little less complicated is that people are not going to be able to go back and change, maybe we should file taxes together this year, because it’s too late now. It’s one of those situations where if you didn’t have it before, it’s kind of hard to backpedal and fix it.”

Lawmakers voted to outlaw common law marriage during the 2016 legislative session. Legislators say it makes it easier for the courts, where cases like this usually ended up, whether after death of one common law spouse, a separation between the two, or an attempt to get long-term spousal benefits.

“Retirement or alimony, things like that. That causes a big problem, because you have to be married for ten years or so,” Dunham said. “So all of a sudden, you’re trying to establish the fact that you are common-law married, because I know that I am entitled to this if I was married for this long, but I missed the date.”

Common law marriages that were recognized by the state before January 1st 2017 will remain valid.

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