Common Law Marriage Abolished in South Carolina

On July 24, 2019, the South Carolina Supreme Court abolished the future recognition of common law marriage. Common law marriage was the legal framework that legitimized couples holding themselves out as married.

Previously, common law marriage could be established where the parties:

  1. Were at least 16 years old
  2. Had an intent or agreement to be married
  3. Cohabitated or lived together
  4. Held out to the public that they were married
  5. Had no other impediments to marriage (were not married to someone else, were not cousins, etc.)

Current common law marriages will continue to be recognized. However, South Carolina marriages will require a marriage license on and after July 25, 2019.

Justice Kaye Hearn wrote for the Court, stating, “[w]e have concluded the institution’s foundations have eroded with the passage of time, and the outcomes it produces are unpredictable and often convoluted…” Accordingly, the Court also provided a higher standard of proof for evaluating current common law marriages. Couples must prove marriage by “clear and convincing evidence.”

This ruling could impact circumstances related to marital status such as taxes, employee benefits, insurance, retirement policies, Family and Medical Leave Act, probate, etc. Common law marriages often created complicated situations and strange divorces. Prospectively, the question of marriage will be simple: do the parties have a marriage certificate?

The majority of states have done away with common law marriage and South Carolina now joins their ranks. This decision felt long overdue as the legislature attempted and failed to abolish it for at least twenty years. The Court affirmed the commonly held intent to bolster the solemn institution of marriage and reduced the guessing games for individuals and third parties.

An experienced attorney at Hyde Law Firm, P.A. can discuss this topic further with you today.

Contact Hyde Law Firm, P.A. to schedule a consultation, 864-804-6330.