Rhode Island is one of the minority of states that recognize common-law marriage. However, there are certain things that are required in order for a court to decide that a couple is in a common-law marriage. One requirement specifically was recently found to be determinative in a case before the Rhode Island Supreme Court. They held that a couple that had been together for 23 years was not deemed to be in a common-law marriage because at different times they represented their relationship in different ways. If the court had found the couple to be in a common-law marriage, it could have affected the rights of the parties upon separation. If you live in Rhode Island and are considering divorce or separation after a common-law marriage, you should contact a skilled Rhode Island divorce attorney today.
Lower Court Ruling
The lower court had held that the couple was in a common-law marriage. They based their reasoning on the fact that the couple had been together for 23 years and had frequently told others that they were married. The court heard evidence that the couple would sometimes wear wedding rings, and they raised a child together. The man in the couple referred to the child as his son, even though they were not biologically related. In 1991, the couple became formally engaged but never had a wedding ceremony. The judge held that there was “clear and convincing proof” of the couple having a mutual and present intent to be married.
Supreme Court Ruling
When we addressed this case before, it was unclear how the Rhode Island Supreme Court would decide. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ended up overturning the lower court’s finding of a common-law marriage. In order to uphold the lower court’s decision, the Rhode Island Supreme Court would need to find that the lower court judge was correct to find that the evidence was clear and convincing. Instead, the court held that the couple would hold themselves out as married only sometimes, generally when there was a financial or other benefit to being legally wed. Other times, they would acknowledge that they were not married. Thus, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that there was not clear and consistent proof of the mutual and present intent to be married.
One of the judges dissented from the decision. His reasoning was that the lower court judge had the benefit of an in-person credibility determination, so her findings of fact and credibility should stand. Thus, he agreed with the lower court judge that the proponent of the common-law marriage was more credible in her testimony, and the court should have found the couple to be married.
There are only about a dozen states that still recognize common-law marriage, but Rhode Island is one of them. This case highlights the importance of caution when declaring yourselves to be married or not. If the relationship was found to be a common-law marriage, the parties would generally be entitled to share the assets that either of them acquired during the marriage.
Hire a Rhode Island Divorce Attorney to Help You!
If you are considering a divorce or are concerned about whether your relationship will be considered a common-law marriage by the court, you should contact a knowledgeable divorce attorney as soon as possible. The laws around common-law marriage can be confusing, and it’s important that you are aware of your rights and responsibilities. The attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, can help you with the legal implications of your separation or divorce. Call (401) 300-4055 or use the form on this website to contact us today for a free consultation!
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