Cases: Common Law marriages from Texas are not valid in North Carolina where there is slight evidence that there is no actual agreement.

by James Norman in , ,


Garrett v. Burris, NC Court of Appeals, 4 Dec 2012

Hulya Garrett requested a divorce from a man that she believed to be her common law husband. The Court denied her request, saying that there was never an agreement to be common law married, despite the fact that they lived together, wore rings, introduced themselves as husband and wife, and filed taxes as married.

North Carolina does not allow common law marriages, but does recognize valid common law marriages from other states. A common law marriage requires 1) an agreement to be married, 2) living together as husband and wife, and 3) holding out to other people to be married.

In this case, the husband denied the marriage because there was no ceremony, no joint accounts, she never officially changed her name (although she used his surname in public and in unofficial documents), and in deeds indicated that she was unmarried. The trial Court and Court of Appeals decided that there was insufficient evidence to show that it was more likely than not that there was ever an actual agreement to marry. 

Judge Beasley quite rightly dissented from the Court's opinion, stating that there was sufficient evidence to support a common law marriage early on in the marriage, despite any evidence that later on, they were acting as if not married. Since there was a dissent, this will likely be addressed and, hopefully, corrected by the NC Supreme Court.

For future reference, if someone sues you in the State of North Carolina saying that you have a common law marriage, all you have to do is say that you never actually agreed to do so, despite whatever mountain of evidence may indicate that you did, in fact, marry the person. And if you do get common law married, make sure that you do nothing to indicate that you are not properly married. Apparently this state is itching to void marriages.