Demystifying Common Law Marriage in Georgia

The concept of common law marriage has a long and convoluted history in the United States. Despite being legal in a minority of states today, it continues to cause confusion surrounding the rights and responsibilities of couples who live together without undergoing a formal legal marriage. This is especially true in Georgia, where conflicting information abounds. This article aims to clarify the current status of common law marriage in Georgia and dispel some of the most common misconceptions.

Target Audience: This blog post is intended for couples in pre-1997 common law marriages, those considering cohabitation in Georgia, and the general public looking to understand this complex legal issue. The goal is to equip readers with accurate information to inform life decisions and legal strategies.

Understanding Common Law Marriage

A common law marriage refers to a partnership that arises from the conduct of two individuals who present themselves to the community as spouses, rather than through the traditional avenues of obtaining a marriage license and having a ceremony. Historically, it involved a couple mutually agreeing to enter a marital relationship without any formal ratification. The key requirements were cohabitation and presenting themselves publicly as married, often by using the same last name and referring to each other as husband and wife.

This differs significantly from a legal or ceremonial marriage recognized by the state through licensure and registration. It also differs from cohabitation agreements or domestic partnerships, which are formal legal contracts governing the rights and duties of unmarried cohabitants. Common law marriage hinges on intent, actions, and community perception of the relationship.

Georgia’s Current Stance

It is important to note that Georgia abolished the creation of new common law marriages in 1997. This means that no common law marriages can be legally formed in the state of Georgia after January 1, 1997, regardless of intent or cohabitation. However, common law marriages established in Georgia prior to 1997 are still legally recognized.

Pre-1997 Common Law Marriages

For couples in Georgia who entered into common law marriage before 1997, their union remains valid under state law. However, proving the existence of a common law marriage can be challenging without a marriage certificate. Some key requirements include:

  • Cohabitation – Showing that you and your spouse lived together for a significant period of time as domestic partners. This may be proven through utility bills, leases, mortgages, and other shared accounts.
  • Community reputation – Demonstrating that you and your spouse presented yourselves to the public as married. Evidence may include joint tax returns, insurance policies, bank accounts, introductions using marital terms, etc.
  • Agreement to marry – Testimony from you, your spouse, or other witnesses confirming that you expressly or implicitly agreed to enter a marital relationship.

Without solid evidence across these areas, individuals in pre-1997 common law marriages may have difficulty asserting full legal rights. Consult an attorney to understand specific requirements in your circumstances.

Dissolving a Pre-1997 Common Law Marriage

Legally terminating a pre-1997 common law marriage in Georgia follows the same process and rules as dissolving a traditional legal marriage. Some key considerations include:

Property division – All property acquired during the marriage is subject to equitable division, which can get complicated without extensive documentation of joint vs separate assets.

Inheritance rights – Partners in common law marriage have the same inheritance rights as those in ceremonial marriages. However, proving marriage may be required to claim benefits.

Child custody – For couples with children, custody rights of both parents are recognized on an equal basis with married parents. But filings must accurately reflect marital status.

Putative spouse rights – If one partner believed in good faith they were legally married, they may be entitled to some spousal benefits even if the marriage is defective or void.

Georgia’s Current Stance

Financial Implications

Ending any long-term live-in relationship like a common law marriage will have financial repercussions. Some issues to consider:

  • Division of any shared or joint assets according to equitable distribution rules. This may require substantial documentation.
  • Potential spousal support obligations, especially for lower-earning partners who sacrificed career advancement for the relationship.
  • Possible gift/estate tax issues for inheritances and asset transfers over the years.
  • Loss of benefits derived from joint income tax filing status.

Consult both a divorce attorney and financial advisor to protect your rights and manage financial transition.

Emotional Considerations

In addition to financial and legal impacts, dissolving a decades-long common law marriage can bring up many complex feelings. The emotional bonds and life entanglement of any long-term relationship make separation difficult. Seek counseling or support groups to cope with these personal challenges.

Seeking Legal Counsel

Attempting to navigate the dissolution of a common law marriage without professional legal help can have severe consequences. The assistance of an experienced local attorney is highly recommended to understand your rights, accurately complete legal filings, and get the best outcome in your situation. If finances are a barrier, research low-cost or free legal aid resources in your area.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage

For modern-day couples who wish to have the benefits and responsibilities of marriage without licensure, alternatives like domestic partnership agreements or cohabitation contracts can provide some protections and formalize shared property ownership. However, these do not confer all benefits of legal marriage. Seek counsel to craft agreements that meet your needs.

Common Georgia Misconceptions

Despite common law marriage being abolished decades ago, myths and inaccurate information still abound. Some clarifications on frequently asked questions:

Q: Can new common law marriages still occur in Georgia if we live together long enough?

A: No, common law marriage was abolished in 1997 so no new common law marriages are legally formed, regardless of cohabitation duration.

Q: If we introduce ourselves as married, won’t we eventually gain marital rights?

A: No, presenting as married does not create a legal marriage after 1997. You may misrepresent your status but will not gain spousal rights.

Q: Won’t we automatically be considered married after 7 years?

A: Absolutely not. The length of cohabitation is irrelevant. The 7 year myth is false.

Q: If we have a child together, doesn’t that make us legally married?

A: No, having a child out of wedlock does not constitute a common law marriage. You must still establish proper marital rights for both parents through legitimization filings.

Q: Can we file taxes jointly as a common law married couple?

A: No, the IRS will not recognize a Georgia common law marriage formed after 1996 for tax purposes. You must file as single or head of household.

Q: Can we get retroactively married if we live together long enough?

No, there is no retroactive conferral of marriage. Formal marriage requirements must be met.

Georgia-Specific Resources

For individuals navigating issues related to common law marriage in Georgia, the following state-specific resources may provide legal or financial assistance:

Recent Legal Changes

While Georgia has not recognized new common law marriages since 1997, the topic still arises in legislative discussions. Most recently in 2010, a proposal to reinstate common law marriage recognition failed to pass. Individuals are advised to monitor any new legislative proposals or laws impacting marital rights in Georgia through official state websites and legal publications. The legal landscape is ever-evolving.


In summary, Georgia’s current legal status is that all common law marriages established within the state after January 1, 1997 are invalid. Protections only exist for couples provably entered into common law marriage prior to the abolishment date. Never assume marital rights based on cohabitation duration, childbearing, or reputation alone. Formal licensure and registration are required for legal marriages today. For those dissolving pre-1997 common law marriages or looking to formalize unmarried partnerships, seek qualified legal counsel to understand options. Arm yourself with accurate information to make the best personal and legal decisions for your family.