Alabama Common Law Marriage
Is it true that if you live with someone for 7 years you are common law married?
Most people have heard different things about common law marriage but don't really understand what it is. A common law marriage is established by cohabitating (living together) as husband and wife and is legally recognized (in Alabama and 10 other states) as a valid alternative to a traditional ceremonial marriage where a couple is married in church or at the courthouse. The legal rational behind common law marriage is that a couple who agrees to take each other as husband and wife and who holds themselves out to the public as husband and wife should not be penalized just because their marriage was not solemnized before a minister or governmental authority.
Once a common law marriage is established a common law spouse enjoys the same legal benefits and privileges (and obligations) as a couple who is ceremonially married. For example common law spouses can inherit from each other as any other husband and wife would when one dies. In fact the question of whether a couple was common law married often arises in a Probate Court proceeding after one of the spouses dies.
There’s no specific cohabitation time requirement in Alabama in order to establish a common law marriage. However, the elements required to enter into a common law marriage are: (1) capacity (both spouses must be at least 14 years old and mentally competent); (2) a present agreement between the parties enter into a marriage relationship; (3) public recognition of the marital relationship; and (4) cohabitation or mutual assumption of marital duties and obligations.
Therefore, to answer the question, there is no specific time period that the couple must live together as long as the elements outlined above are met. One day would suffice if other evidence supported a valid common law marriage. Some evidence that the courts look at in determining whether a couple is common law married include but is not limited to: (1) whether they use the same last name; (2) whether they file joint tax returns; (3) whether they live in the same household; (4) whether they have children; (5) whether they refer to each other as “husband" and “wife" in public; (6) whether they consider themselves married; (7) whether they exchanged rings; (8) whether they exchanged vows to each other; (9) whether the relationship has been continuous and exclusive; etc..
Once a couple is common law married the marriage can only be dissolved by death or divorce. As one court put it, “There’s no such thing as being a ‘little bit’ married."