A common law marriage is a marriage entered into without ceremony or license – if a couple cohabitates, holds themselves out as husband and wife, and raises a family, a common law marriage may be recognized. The state of Tennessee does not permit common law marriages within its boundaries, but gives full faith and credit to valid common law marriages from other states, so long as the marriage is not “offensive” to the policies of the state.
Historically, common law marriages were recognized pretty much everywhere. The population of the United States was not always ready with access to a clerk’s office or a clergyman to license or perform the ceremony, and the states saw little harm in recognizing a marriage that the community and families of the participants clearly recognized.
In the early 1980s, Tennessee ceased recognition of common law marriages for simplicity’s sake. While it may seem counterintuitive to require more paperwork and ceremony in order to achieve simplicity, division of property upon death or divorce are already complicated and stressful enough without the added worry of determining whether or not the party were actually married. Since access to licensure and an official authorized to wed is now available to essentially everyone, and the fees associated are minimal, the State determined that it was not unduly burdensome to require that parties wishing to marry carry out certain tasks.
Although common law marriages can no longer occur in Tennessee, the state does recognize valid marriages from other states. If you are concerned as to the validity of a marriage in Tennessee or have other questions regarding family law issues, you should contact an attorney. For more information on family issues, click here.