Are Common Law Marriages Recognized in North Carolina?

In Relationships, Separation & Divorce by Carly Baker

The concept of common law marriage is an informal situation in which a couple resides together and holds themselves out to their community as husband and wife. This is informal because the couple has not undergone the formal process or met the requisites to obtain a marriage license, which includes:

  1. Obtaining a marriage license directly from a county clerk in North Carolina. This requires an application, meeting the age requirements, as well as ID, social security number, and paying a fee.


  1. Having a religious officiant or properly ordained person perform a ceremony, then verify and submit a marriage license to a county clerk.

There are several states across the country that recognize common law marriage if a couple has held themselves out as married for a specific number of years. In those states, when a common law marriage ends, the couple must comply with that state’s divorce laws and procedures to dissolve their marriage.

North Carolina Does Not Recognize Common Law Marriage

Unlike some other states, North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage. This means that couples that consider themselves married and hold themselves out as married without a marriage license are not considered married under the law. Therefore, these couples do not qualify for employer benefits, social security spouse benefits, intestate survival benefits, or married tax benefits.

Likewise, if these couples separate in North Carolina, they also lose the legal rights that divorced people enjoy. This includes an equitable distribution of marital property, post-separation support, and alimony. For couples who consider themselves married under common law for an extended period of time, this can deprive a dependent spouse of significant property and support that they would otherwise have been entitled to. It is therefore important that if you want to be married and treated as married in this state, to obtain a marriage license from your county clerk.

New Direction Family Law

If you are seeking a divorce, contact New Direction Family Law. For years, our attorneys have helped clients achieve certainty during a very uncertain time in their lives. What you do in this moment matters, and we want to make sure that you are able to make sound, confident decisions about your future. If you need help, contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or visit our website.

Carly G. Baker
New Direction Family Law

New Direction Family Law
(919) 719-3470