Common law marriage allows for a couple to be considered formally married even if they have not had a wedding or not been formally married under according to civil or religious ceremony. When people present themselves as being married (even without formal marriage), some states allow the couple to be considered married for legal purposes, under certain conditions.
Common law marriage is only valid in a handful of states and Missouri is not a common law marriage state. However, when a marriage is recognized in a common law marriage state, the couple may be considered legally married when they move to another state under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Common Law Marriage States
Over the past few years, a number of states which previously allowed for common law marriage have since abolished the recognition of common law marriage. In July 2019, South Carolina abolished the future recognition of common law marriages.
There are still a number of states which do recognize common law marriage, including neighboring Kansas and Iowa. Under Kansas law, common law marriage is permitted where both parties are 18 years old or older. Generally, both parties need to meet the following 3 requirements:
- Capacity to marry;
- Present marriage agreement; and
- Present each other as husband and wife to the public.
There are a number of misconceptions about common law marriage. For example, common law marriage does not become automatic after a couple lives together for a long enough time. An unmarried couple could live together for 50 years and still not be considered married in a state like Kansas if they do not have a marriage agreement or they do not present themselves publicly to be married.
Common Law Couple Moving to Missouri
If a couple established common law marriage in Kansas and then moved to Missouri, the couple could be considered married in Missouri even if Missouri does not recognize common law marriage. The Constitution generally provides that a marriage recognized in one state would be considered valid in another state.
However, if a couple did not meet the terms of common law marriage until moving to another state (that did not recognize common law marriage), would generally not be considered married. For example, if the couple lived together in Kansas for years but never presented themselves publicly as married and then they moved to Missouri and told everyone they were married, this may not qualify as establishing common law marriage.
Divorce or Dissolving a Common Law Marriage
There is no common law divorce, even for common law marriages. If a couple established themselves as married under common law in a state that recognizes common law marriage, they would need a valid legal separation or divorce. Couples married under common law could not enter into another marriage until they were divorced according to the laws of the state where they reside.
If a couple was married under common law in another state and one or both spouses moved to Missouri, they would have to go through the same divorce process as any other married couple. Generally, this requires being a resident of Missouri for at least 90 days prior to filing for divorce (there are some exceptions for U.S. military members stationed in Missouri), and stating the grounds for divorce or that the divorce is irretrievably broken.
Experienced Raymore Family Law Attorney
If you have questions about whether you are considered married when moving from a common law marriage state or how to divorce in a common law marriage in Missouri, The Joshua Wilson Law Firm is here to help. Contact the Joshua Wilson Law Firm today by calling (816) 331-9968 or fill out our online form.
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