Common Law Marriage in Georgia
Common law marriage is a marriage recognized in some states even when there has been no official ceremony performed or civil contract entered into. Common law marriage was abolished in Georgia beginning on January 1, 1997 and any common law marriage entered into on or after that date is not valid O.C.G.A. §19-3-1. However, Georgia still recognizes any valid common law marriage entered into prior to January 1, 1997 and, thus, it is important to understand how a common law marriage can be established.
There are three requirements for a valid common-law marriage in Georgia: (1) the parties must be able to contract; (2) there must be an actual contract; and (3) there must be consummation according to law (O.C.G.A. §19-3-1). These same requirements are applicable to ceremonial marriages, but apply a little differently in common law marriages. To be able to contract, both parties must be of sound mind, at least 18 years old, not related within a certain degree, and have no prior unresolved marriage. An actual contract is established in a common law marriage when the parties have a mutual agreement to be husband and wife and hold themselves out to the world as husband and wife. Consummation in a common law marriage is established by the continuous cohabitation of the parties. There is no required period of time that the parties have to live together, but the longer the cohabitation, the stronger the presumption that a common law marriage exists.
All of the above elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to have existed prior to January 1, 1997 in order to establish a common law marriage that will be recognized by the state of Georgia. Once a common law marriage is established, the parties to that marriage are afforded the same rights as any other married couple, including the right to get a divorce.