For many people, marriage signifies a special and spiritual bond with another person. But under North Carolina law, it is also a contract. When a valid marriage takes place, spouses automatically assume certain legal rights, such as the right to the other’s estate and to provide support for the other spouse. But those rights aren’t cut and dried when it comes to some couples, the North Carolina Court of Appeals recently ruled.
The appeals court said Tuesday that couples must establish common-law marriages in other states before they can be considered as spouses in divorce proceedings.
Common-law marriages are not recognized in North Carolina. But according to the appeals court opinion, the state’s courts “will recognize as valid a common-law marriage ‘if the acts alleged to have created it took place in a state where such a marriage is valid.’”
In the case at hand, Hulya Garrett of Iredell County is seeking alimony, property and absolute divorce from her boyfriend Charles Burris. The two lived together in Texas for eight years, a state that does have common-law marriage. To qualify as a common-law marriage in Texas, a couple must prove three points: that they agree to be married, live together as husband and wife and represent themselves to others as spouses.
Garrett did not prove all three of those elements in her claim, the court opinion said. That means that the N.C. Supreme Court will have to reconsider the evidence and rule in her favor in order for her to obtain post-separation support, alimony, equitable distribution of marital property and absolute divorce.
It is important to remember that marriage signifies not only an emotional bond, but also a legal one. Before entering into a marriage contract, it is important to understand how your rights will change. Depending on your circumstances, you may want a premarital agreement or to amend your will so that certain property is not immediately passed to your husband or wife upon your death. If you have questions or concerns about your legal obligations in a marriage, it is best to talk with a family law attorney.