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Child Custody Lawyers in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, NC :: North Carolina Court of Appeals Wrestles With Common-Law Marriage

Charlotte North Carolina Child Custody Lawyers and Attorneys.jpgA North Carolina Appeals Court says that couples that want to be treated as spouses in a North Carolina divorce proceeding must establish their common-law marriages in other states first before moving to North Carolina.

Though marriage is a wonderful spiritual union between two people, the reality is under North Carolina law it’s a legal contract. When a valid marriage takes place, spouses automatically assume certain legal rights, such as the right to the other’s estate. Though these rights apply automatically to married couples, dealings with other couples aren’t so simple.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled early last week that couples must establish common-law marriages in other states before they can be considered as spouses in divorce proceedings. Common-law marriages are not recognized in North Carolina. However, the appeals court said that the state’s courts “will recognize as valid a common-law marriage ‘if the acts alleged to have created it took place in a state where such a marriage is valid.’”
The case in question concerns a woman, Hulya Garrett, who is seeking alimony, division of property and a divorce from her boyfriend of many years, Charles Burris. The two lived together in Texas for eight years, a state that does permit common-law marriage. To qualify as a common-law marriage in Texas, a couple must prove three things: 1) that they agree to be married; 2) that they live together as husband and wife; and 3) that they represent themselves to others as spouses.


In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals found that Ms. Garrett did not prove all three of the required elements in her case. Judge Cheri Beasley dissented from the two other judges, saying Ms. Garrett moved in with Mr. Burris after he said they would be as good as married under Texas law. Given the rejection by the Court of Appeals, Garrett’s only shot is if the North Carolina Supreme Court will agree to hear her case and decide that living with her boyfriend for so many years in another state entitled her to the rights of a married couple.

If you find yourself facing the prospect of divorce in Charlotte, it is best to contact experienced child support lawyers who practice in Charlotte, North Carolina like those at Arnold & Smith, PLLC who can help guide you through the sometimes-confusing process.

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