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Rhode Island Supreme Court Hears Common-Law Marriage Case

After twenty three years together, an East Providence couple decided to separate. Now that they have broken up, a court is trying to determine if they were in a common-law marriage. We tend to think of marriage in black and white terms: either you’re married or you’re not. But it may not be that simple in Rhode Island.

Common-Law Marriage

In most states this would be pretty straightforward, and the court would look to whether there was a marriage license. However, Rhode Island is one of only a few states that recognizes common law marriage. In order to determine whether a common law marriage exists, many people think there is a specific number of years together that must be met. That’s not true. Rather, the court looks all the relevant factors to determine whether there was a “present mutual intent to be married.” In other words, do both parties consider themselves married to one another? Do they live their lives like they are married and hold themselves out to others as a married couple? A Rhode Island family law attorney will be able to explain all the ins and outs of this unique area of family law.

In this case, the lower court had decided that the couple was in a common-law marriage and the Rhode Island Supreme Court recently heard the appeal to decide whether or not to uphold the decision. The wife/girlfriend of the couple was hoping that they were considered married so she would be entitled to some of the assets the husband/boyfriend earned during the marriage, including profits from selling the house and his retirement fund.

What the Court Will be Assessing

The wife/girlfriend’s attorney argued that the couple was in a common law marriage because her significant other wore a ring on his left hand ring finger, acted as a father figure to her son, listed her as a beneficiary on his insurance policies, marked his status Facebook as “married,” and referred to her as his “common-law wife.”  On the other hand, the husband/boyfriend’s attorney argued that they never merged their assets together, and his wife/girlfriend sometimes referred to herself as single.

If you live in Rhode Island and are in a relationship and living with your significant other, there are lessons to be taken from this case. Each situation is different and an experienced Rhode Island divorce attorney can help you with the specifics of your situation, but there are some things that you can do to make sure that you don’t accidentally find yourself “married.” First, you want to make sure that when you talk to others you don’t refer yourself as “married,” if you don’t intend to be viewed as such. This also includes conversations on social media. Second, keep your finances and assets separate.  Finally, don’t wear jewelry or other indicators of being married if you don’t want to be treated as a married couple by the law.

While we don’t know how this case will ultimately be resolved, you can make sure that you are never in a position like this by talking with a knowledgeable Rhode Island family law attorney. Call Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, and we can help you understand all the intended and unintended consequences of the choices you make. Call (401) 300-4055 or contact us via our website for your complimentary consultation today!

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