South Carolina high court unties the knot for common-law marriage
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If you want to get married in South Carolina, you are going to need a valid marriage certificate.
The South Carolina Supreme Court abolished recognition of common-law marriage in a decision last week, report the Legal Profession Blog, the Post and Courier, and WYFF. The decision applies to future relationships and not to people already in common-law marriages.
Fewer than 10 states recognize common-law marriage, according to the opinion. The most recent state to abolish common-law marriage was Alabama, which adopted a law barring such marriages in 2016.
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in a case involving a Charleston couple who separated. One of the parties said they had been in a common-law relationship and he was entitled to a distribution of assets. The court said there wasn’t enough evidence to show the couple mutually agreed to be married.
“Our review in this case has prompted us to take stock of common-law marriage as a whole in South Carolina,” the court said. “We have concluded the institution’s foundations have eroded with the passage of time, and the outcomes it produces are unpredictable and often convoluted. Accordingly, we believe the time has come to join the overwhelming national trend and abolish it.”
Common-law marriage was adopted by some states at a time when America was sparsely populated, and access to officials and ministers was limited. States also wanted to legitimize the relationships and the children they produced, and to prevent women from relying on government for support.
Circumstances have since changed, the state supreme court said, citing a Pennsylvania decision. Access to civil and religious authorities for a ceremonial marriage is readily available. A woman is no longer thought to pose a danger of burdening the state with her support simply because she is single. And the marital status of parents no longer determines the inheritance rights of children.
In addition, society is more accepting of relationships and children outside of marriage, the court said.
The court said the U.S. Supreme Court found marriage to be a fundamental constitutional right in Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision “leads us to believe the right to remain unmarried is equally weighty,” the court said.