Guide to Common Law Marriage in Kentucky
There are many myths about the institution of common law marriage. Many people believe that two people will be considered to be in a common law marriage in KY if they live together for a certain number of years, or if they have children together and call each other husband and wife. The truth is substantially more complex, and many people who believe they have a common law marriage in Kentucky may actually find themselves in a precarious legal situation when it comes to probate or child custody. This guide will help you understand what couples have a common law marriage in KY, and what legal alternatives exist to common law marriages.
History of Common Law Marriage in Kentucky
Common law marriage in KY has a history that goes back to medieval England. According to unwritten English law (or “common law”), a couple that swore marriage vows to each other was considered married regardless of whether they had witnesses or an officiant. Under the common law, a couple who had a common law marriage in Kentucky was considered legally married. They would be entitled to inherit each other's assets and would have to file for divorce in order to legally dissolve their partnership.
However, as Kentucky and other U.S. states began to encode laws in writing, many states decided to stop recognizing common law marriage. In 1852, the state stopped recognizing common law marriage in KY. Couples who previously had a common law marriage in Kentucky were required to take legal marriage vows in order to maintain their relationship.
Is Common Law Marriage in Kentucky Legal Today?
Common law marriage in KY has not been legal for over 150 years. No matter how long you and your significant other have been living in the same household, you are not considered husband and wife. Marriage vows must be accompanied by a valid Kentucky marriage license in order to make a wedding legal in the state of Kentucky.
Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in Kentucky
Many people wish, for various reasons, to have some benefits of marriage with a cohabiting partner even if they do not wish to take wedding vows. In these cases, you may want to hire an attorney who can help you create a legal relationship that would give you some of the same benefits as a common law marriage in KY. For instance, if you were interested in a common law marriage in Kentucky due to a desire to inherit a partner's property, you may want to talk to an estate lawyer about writing your will to ensure that your wishes are followed.
Common Law Marriages from Other States
A small number of people are permitted to have a common law marriage in KY. These are people who have moved to Kentucky from one of the states that still allows common law marriage. If you were considered common law married in another state, you will automatically maintain your common law marriage in Kentucky when you move there. This is due to the Constitution's “full faith and credit” clause, and is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.