Common-Law Marriage, a Legal Relic, Still a Minefield in Some States

By Holland, Jesse J. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, March 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Common-Law Marriage, a Legal Relic, Still a Minefield in Some States


Holland, Jesse J., THE JOURNAL RECORD


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Lisa Alexander and Jamie Brindel are getting married this spring. Yet because they lived together in a Columbia apartment last year, they may legally be married already.

Common-law marriage, a legal relic from medieval times, is still recognized in 11 states, including South Carolina and Oklahoma. But few people seem to know about its pitfalls.

A slip of the tongue or a hurried conversation could be costly. By publicly identifying a partner as a spouse, couples who never thought they were married could face divorce proceedings to end a relationship. "Luckily, it doesn't matter to us, because we're getting married anyway," Brindel said. "But imagine waking up one morning and finding out that you have to go to court and divorce your girlfriend? Whew." Common-law marriage developed from the unwritten law of medieval England where ministers were not always available when a couple wanted to get married. Despite its history, few people seem to know exactly what constitutes a common-law marriage, said Cynthia Bowman, a Northwestern University law professor. There is a widely held misconception that common-law marriage doesn't kick in until a couple has lived together for seven years. "Totally wrong," Bowman said. "They must get that from someone having to be gone for seven years before being declared legally dead. But that doesn't work for anything else." Brindel, 25, and Alexander, 22, found out about their likely common-law marriage through Alexander's classes at the University of South Carolina. "It doesn't seem to matter unless somebody sues, does it?" Brindel said, as he munched on burgers at a Columbia bar with his fiancee -- or is that now his wife? The lawsuits, however, can be long and nasty. Oscar-winning actor William Hurt had to fight a two-year legal battle from South Carolina to New York to prove that a dancer he lived with in Beaufort was not his wife. Sandra Jennings' claim was based on the fact that she lived with Hurt for 10 weeks in 1982 during the filming of The Big Chill and conversations Hurt had with local residents. She sued in New York, which abolished common-law marriage in 1933. Judges there ruled that while Jennings lived with Hurt and had a child with him, that wasn't enough to constitute a marriage. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Common-Law Marriage, a Legal Relic, Still a Minefield in Some States
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.