(Update: Bill did NOT pass)
For South Carolina couples who are legally classified as being in a “common-law marriage,” that relationship would no longer be recognized in state courts if a prefiled bill passes next session.
South Carolina is one of only nine states that recognizes common-law marriages, which is when a couple holds themselves to be married without going through an official ceremony. By definition, there is little in the way of state law concerning them. Most of the existing rules governing them came through court rulings, known as “case law.”
Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) says, as a result, couples are often confused about the legal definition of common-law marriage.
Many people who think they have a common-law marriage, don’t… because they haven’t met the burden that the case law in South Carolina requires them to have met.
According to case law, a couple must not only have intent to enter a marriage contract, but also must hold themselves to be married. In other words: act like they’re married.
Even Martin admits he once held incorrect views until he started doing his own research.
A lot of folks seem to think… that you had to be together for seven years uninterrupted in order to be deemed common-law. And that’s not true.
A common-law claim usually isn’t filed until the couple goes to probate court for estate, child support, or alimony issues. Martin says judges have told him they want to see the practice ended.
It causes a lot of time and angst with probate court… Those kind of things can be legal nightmares, and be protractred for long periods of time. That costs the taxpayers money in providing a resolution of those disputes.
The bill would allow anyone currently in a common-law marriage to apply for a marraige license without having to pay a fee, go through a wedding ceremony, or even take vows. Martin said the state wanted to make it simple, without requiring couples to go through a ceremony or take vows.
All they would have to do is go to the probate court and say, “Look, we’re married and we consider ourselves married.” And that would be the way it would be done.
The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will be taken up for debate after the legislative session begins January 11.