Common Law Marriage in North Carolina

Dec 9, 2010

My last post discussed the laws relating to unmarried domestic partners, i.e. couples who have lived together for a significant period and acted like they are married.

 One of the biggest misconceptions about the law of marriage in North Carolina is that there are “common law wives” or “common law husbands” in this state.  North Carolina does not grant common law marriages.

Other states do recognize common law marriages.  And, if two people were common law spouses in another state, and then moved to North Carolina, North Carolina may recognize the common law marriage from the other state. But, in or order to get married in North Carolina you have to have a marriage license and a marriage ceremony (in the courthouse or otherwise). 

Because North Carolina does not recognize common law marriages, North Carolina couples that have lived together, but have never been married do not receive the same rights accorded to married couples. 

These rights are significant.  Some of the most important ones are:

–  The right to ask the court to equitably divide property at the end of the relationship;

–  The right to seek financial spousal support from the other party at the end of the relationship;

–  The right to take a share of a spouse’s estate at their death (“elective share” in legalese); and

–  The right to receive spousal benefits from certain retirement plans and pensions.

The bottom line is that is that if you have any questions about whether you are legally married in North Carolina, you should contact a North Carolina family law attorney.  Otherwise, you risk missing out on important protections if your relationship comes to an end.


Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, alienation of affection, criminal conversation, parentage, guardianship and other family related matters.  

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