August 14, 2009

Common Law Marriage in Maryland…or NOT in Maryland

As a practicing family law attorney in Maryland, I am often asked if Jack and Jill who have been living together for ten years now in the State of Maryland, but have never had a lawful marriage ceremony, are legally married under the doctrine of common law marriage? The answer is no, Maryland does not recognize common law marriages. Therefore, if Jack wanted to end his relationship with Jill, no legal action would be required on his part. Also, if Jill wanted to inherit from Jack, or participate in his health benefits, this may pose a problem as they are not married under the laws of the State of Maryland.

A common law marriage, by definition, is a marriage formed between two individuals who have lived together for a specified amount of time, rather than participating in a lawful ceremony. However, the parties must be of the legal age to be married, must mutually intend to take on the status of husband and wife, and must not only live together, but represent to the community that they are husband and wife.

Although Maryland does not recognize common law marriage, it will accept as a legal marriage a common law marriage validly entered into in another state. These marriages will be treated just like any other valid marriage in the Maryland court system, requiring a filing for divorce when one party wants to terminate the relationship.

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