When many people think about a marriage, they picture a big celebration in which a couple exchanges sacred vows. However, in Rhode Island and a handful of other states, a couple can legally be married without having ever had a wedding, exchanged vows, or even signed a contract. This is the concept behind a Rhode Island common law marriage.
A common law marriage is simply a marriage without a legal ceremony. While the concept of a Rhode Island common law marriage is easily explained, determining whether a common law marriage exists can be quite tricky. Previous cases have held that the burden to establish a common law marriage rests on the party claiming the marriage exists and that a common law marriage must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. While this is a high standard, it is one that can be met under the appropriate circumstances.
In most states including Rhode Island, a common law marriage cannot be established through mere proof that a couple lived together. In general, Rhode Island courts will consider three factors when evaluating a couple’s relationship:
- Proof that the couple cohabited, or shared a household;
- Evidence that the couple intended to be married; and
- Whether the couple held themselves out to the public as a married couple.
Thus, a couple must live together, conduct their private lives as though they are married, and also express an outward manifestation that they are a married couple. Factors that may tend to prove a common law marriage exists are:
- A couple’s intermingling of finances;
- One partner taking the other partner’s last name;
- The exchange of a wedding ring or similar gift indicating a serious life-long commitment;
- A couple indicating their “married” status on official government documents, such as tax returns;
- Evidence that a couple introduced their partner as husband or wife to other people; and
- A celebration or religious ceremony indicating the couple’s commitment.
Aside from cohabitation, no single fact is absolutely required to establish a Rhode Island common law marriage. Instead, courts will consider all relevant evidence that tends to prove or disprove the couple’s intent to be married. If one party in the relationship is able to prove that a common law marriage exists, then the couple will need to have a formal divorce in order to terminate the relationship. However, if neither party has requested the state acknowledge the marriage, and the couple agrees to terminate the relationship, a divorce is unnecessary.
Do You Need a Divorce Attorney?
If you have recently separated from your partner, and wonder if your relationship qualified as a common law marriage, contact the dedicated Rhode Island family law attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we have over 35 years of collective experience serving clients in a wide range of Rhode Island divorce cases. We understand that we often enter our clients’ lives at a very difficult time, and we take every precaution to alleviate as much uncertainty and stress as possible. To learn more about how we can help you with your current situation, call 401-300-4055 to schedule a free initial consultation today.
See Related Posts:
Rhode Island Supreme Court Case Looks at Hidden Assets During Divorce, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Blog, September 28, 2018.
The Division of Property Following a Rhode Island Divorce, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 29, 2018.