Understanding Common Law Marriage in Alabama Easily

common law marriage is a partnership that meets the criteria for marriage without the couple having obtained a marriage license or having a wedding ceremony. Common law marriage allows partners in long-term, marriage-like relationships to enjoy the rights and responsibilities of marriage without going through the formal steps.

Common law marriage is recognized in only a handful of U.S. states today, and laws regarding recognition vary significantly by location. Alabama has a complex history and set of legal standards when it comes to recognizing common law marriages. This guide will provide an overview of common law marriage in the context of Alabama to help partners understand their rights and whether their relationship meets the criteria for legal recognition.

Alabama Common Law Marriage

common law marriage in Alabama refers to a partnership between two consenting adults who meet certain criteria for living together and representing themselves to the public as married. Alabama used to fully recognize new common law marriages, but today only continues to acknowledge those established before a certain date.

Common law marriage grants couples similar rights and responsibilities as those who are formally married in the state. However, partners must prove they meet the standards, which requires providing evidence of cohabitation, public presentation as married, and mutual consent to enter into marriage.

History of the Changes to Alabama Common Law Marriage Laws

Laws regarding common law marriage in Alabama have gone through significant evolution over the past century:

  • Early 20th century – New common law marriages freely recognized. Could be established based simply on cohabitation and reputation as a married couple in the community.
  • 1970 – Cutoff date of January 1, 1970 enacted. Common law marriages established before this date continued to be recognized, but new ones formed after would not be valid.
  • 1998 – Statutes modified to impose additional criteria proving intent and agreement to be married. Partners now must prove mutual consent through evidence like tax returns, bank accounts, and insurance policies.
  • 2017 – Section 30-1-20 of Alabama code updated to declare, “No common-law marriage may be entered into in this state on or after January 1, 2017.” No new common law marriages established after this date are legally recognized.

Previous Requirements for Common Law Marriage in Alabama

Prior to 2017, Alabama recognized certain common law marriages established before January 1, 1970 if couples could demonstrate:

  • Cohabitation – The couple lived together for a significant period of time.
  • Reputation in community – The couple represented themselves to the public as married.
  • Mutual agreement – Evidence showed the couple intended and consented to be married based on joint banking, insurance, tax filings, etc.

Partners had to prove these elements to authorities and assert their rights as a commonly married couple. After 1998, mutual intent became particularly important.

Previous Requirements for Common Law Marriage in Alabama

Does Alabama Recognize Common Law Marriage?

Alabama does still recognize common law marriages today, but only those established before January 1, 2017. The law currently states:

“Any persons who otherwise meet the criteria…and who satisfied the requirements…for a common-law marriage prior to January 1, 2017, shall continue to be recognized as being legally married in the State of Alabama.”

However, Alabama no longer allows partners to enter into new, legally valid common law marriages after January 1, 2017. Couples who began cohabitating after 2017 cannot claim rights under common law marriage. The only option for legal recognition is ceremonial marriage with a license.

Alabama Common Law Marriage Requirements

For couples who did establish a common law marriage before January 2017, Alabama law imposes several requirements to recognize the validity of the union:

  • Begun cohabiting and engaging in marital-like conduct before January 1, 2017.
  • Mutually intended, agreed, and consented to enter into a marital partnership.
  • Represented themselves publicly as married prior to 2017.

To prove these elements today, supportive documentation like:

  • Joint tax returns
  • Joint bank accounts
  • Joint mortgage or utilities
  • Joint parenting of children
  • Insurance policies naming partner

May be considered evidence of intent and repute for authorities and the courts.

Is There a Common Law Divorce?

There is no such thing as a common law divorce in Alabama. Partners in a recognized common law marriage must still follow traditional state divorce procedures and laws to legally dissolve their union, even if it was never ceremonially formalized.

The process for divorce will mirror that of any licensed marriage in Alabama, requiring one partner to file a petition citing grounds like adultery, abandonment, or irreconcilable differences. The court will issue similar divorce decrees dividing assets equitably between the spouses.

Current Marriage Options in Alabama

With common law marriage no longer an option since 2017, couples in Alabama have two choices for legally recognizing their relationship:

  • Ceremonial, Licensed Marriage – The traditional path with marriage licenses and officiants guiding wedding ceremonies. Handled mainly through the probate courts.
  • Informal Marriage – Partners sign and file a notarized Alabama Declaration of Informal Marriage form with the probate court. Less costly and no ceremony required.
Ceremonial Marriage Informal Marriage
Process Apply for marriage license, have ceremony, file certificates File Declaration of Informal Marriage form
Time Planning traditional wedding takes months Can file form and complete process in days
Cost $100+ for license. Ceremony and reception costs extra. $78 license and notary fee only
Benefits Widely recognized. Can have wedding celebration. Less planning. Don’t need officiant or ceremony.

Contact a Family Law Attorney in Alabama

Anyone with questions or in need of legal advice regarding common law marriage validity, rights, and recognition should contact a local Alabama family law attorney. An experienced lawyer can examine your situation, gather supporting evidence, and advise you on the best course of action given the complexity of Alabama marriage laws. Rely on experts to protect your interests and ensure proper handling of your unique circumstances.


While common law marriage was once widely recognized in Alabama, the options today are limited unless couples established these partnerships prior to 2017. The state still acknowledges pre-2017 common law marriages but has imposed stricter requirements regarding proof of consent, cohabitation, and reputation. Common law divorce does not exist, so traditional divorce procedures apply. Those looking for current legal options can choose between ceremonial marriage or informal marriage after filing the proper paperwork. Due to the intricacies involved, consulting knowledgeable local counsel is highly recommended for anybody currently in or considering a common law marriage in Alabama.