In this video, I discuss the origins of Common Law Marriage and its validity in the State of New York
Common Law Marriage Defined
Without getting too much into the specifics, a common law marriage is generally defined as a marriage created by the express agreement of the parties without ceremony, and often without a witness. Generally, no specific words are required. However, there must be proof of an agreement to enter into the legal relationship of marriage at the present time. So basically, the marriage was valid so long as both parties agreed to be married and acted as married couples. Under such circumstances, the law simply assumed these folks are married.
The Origins of Common Law Marriage: What’s the Point?
So one may wonder what is the point of this? Why not just go to the courthouse and get the marriage license? Well, back in the day–medieval England and the days of the American Frontier to be exact–it was often impossible for couples wanting to marry to find authorized persons to issue marriage licenses and perform ceremonies. Not only were these folks struggling without Siri or Google, but these people did not even have the telegraph yet! The greatest technology of the time was the horse and buggy.
The main point is that couples relied on common law marriage to solve this issue. Because many people did not have access to clergy or a justice of the peace who could “solemnize” the marriage, in New York, if you acted like you were married to your “spouse,” then, in the eyes of New York Law, you were married. In fact, the State of New York was the first State to recognize Common Law Marriage. Towards the end of the 1800es, a majority of States, joined New York, in recognizing that marriages could be valid even without proper solemnization by an authorized person.
As technology advanced and social conditions drastically changed across the country, Common Law Marriage soon began to disappear. Even New York courts began to turn a more skeptical eye towards Common Law Marriage and eventually couples in New York were no longer granted Common Law Marriages.
Should Common Law Marriage be Valid in New York?
In one study authors suggested that the availability of Common Law Marriage was correlated with lower teen births. Other scholars have emphasized that women, particularly women of less economic means, are disproportionately harmed by the demise of Common Law Marriage.
On the other hand, other scholars argue that Common Law Marriage is a heirloom of a bygone era. Many scholars and judges holding this position believe Common Law Marriage claims debases conventional marriage and is no longer necessary given that anyone with a smartphone will have access to the location of a person who can license their marriage.
Essentially, the question that one who seeks to rely on common law marriage is this: why didn’t you just go to the courthouse and get your marriage license? Although some may not be able to pay the fee to obtain a marriage license, it does not seem courts or the legislature find this argument particularly persuasive by itself. In the end, Common Law Marriage remains invalid in the State of New York.