Common law marriage is a marriage recognized in some states even when there has been no official ceremony performed or civil contract entered into. Common law marriage was abolished in Georgiabeginning on January 1, 1997 and any common law marriage entered into on or after that date is not valid O.C.G.A. §19-3-1. However, Georgia still recognizes any valid common law marriage enteredinto prior to January 1, 1997 and, thus, it is important to understand how a common law marriage can be established.
There are three requirements for a valid common-law marriage in Georgia: (1) the parties must be able to contract; (2) there must be an actual contract; and (3) there must be consummationaccording to law (O.C.G.A. §19-3-1). These same requirements are applicable to ceremonial marriages, but apply a little differently in common law marriages. To be able to contract, both partiesmust be of sound mind, at least 18 years old, not related within a certain degree, and have no prior unresolved marriage. An actual contract is established in a common law marriage when theparties have a mutual agreement to be husband and wife and hold themselves out to the world as husband and wife. Consummation in a common law marriage is established by the continuouscohabitation of the parties. There is no required period of time that the parties have to live together, but the longer the cohabitation, the stronger the presumption that a common law marriageexists.
All of the above elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to have existed prior to January 1, 1997 in order to establish a common law marriage that will be recognized by thestate of Georgia. Once a common law marriage is established, the parties to that marriage are afforded the same rights as any other married couple, including the right to get a divorce.