Don’t Forget the Marriage License

Don’t Forget the Marriage License

By Rebecca C. Day, Esq.

Many of us have heard the term “common-law marriage.” It generally refers to a situation in which the parties live together as husband and wife and hold themselves out as such. They have the intent to marry, but never actually participate in a formal marriage ceremony or obtain a marriage license. A few jurisdictions recognize common-law marriage as legally binding, but New Jersey is not one of them.

It has been New Jersey’s policy since 1939 that all marriages require the parties to obtain a marriage license. The legal validity of a marriage is usually determined by the laws of the state in which it takes place, if you are in New Jersey and wish to be married you need to obtain a marriage license.

There are some limited circumstances in which New Jersey courts have found that a marriage existed even though the parties did not take all the steps required to formalize that marriage. However, these exceptions are grounded in equity and the individual circumstances of the case. They should not be relied upon as a means to validate a “common-law marriage.”

The legal validity of one’s marriage is not only important during the marriage to obtain marital benefits such as health insurance coverage or Social Security benefits, but the legal validity of one’s marriage can also be important if the marriage is terminated by death or divorce. In New Jersey, if a person dies intestate (without a will), a legal spouse is entitled to all or a portion of the deceased spouse’s estate. If a person has a will but has not named his or her legal spouse as a beneficiary, the legal spouse may be entitled to receive an elective share of the deceased spouse’s estate. These benefits are not available to a common-law spouse. Additionally, if a marriage is only a “common-law marriage” and the parties split-up, the divorce laws providing for equitable distribution and alimony would generally be inapplicable.

So if you intend to be married in New Jersey, don’t forget the marriage license. If you have any questions about this topic or any other topic related to family law, please call Rebecca C. Day, Esq. at (609) 730-3850 to schedule an appointment.