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Does Tennessee recognize common-law marriages?

On Behalf of | Oct 6, 2023 | Collaborative Divorce

For couples that have lived together for a long time, if the relationship eventually implodes, you may find yourself kicked out of a home that you have lived in for decades or losing a car you thought was yours.

If this happens to you, or if you think your long-term relationship is about to implode, you may search for ways to protect yourself. And, one such thing you may look to is whether you are common-law married to your spouse.

Does Tennessee recognize common-law marriages?

If you live in Tennessee, the simple answer is no. Even if you have lived together for decades and held yourselves out as married, that does not matter here. And, unlike most other states, that has always been the law.

Are there exceptions?

Yes. Tennessee does have one exception. Since our state follows the principle of comity (recognizing the laws of other states), if you had a valid common-law marriage in another state before moving here, it would be recognized here as well.

If we fall into this exception, how do we divorce?

If you have a valid common-law marriage from another state, your divorce here will be like any other divorce. You will follow the same procedures as someone who was married in Tennessee. The only difference is that you will likely have to litigate whether your marriage was a valid common-law marriage in the other state.

Do I just not have any rights then?

Of course, you have rights, just not as many as if you were married. If you do not want to get married, but you both want to stay together, create a cohabitation agreement. It will outline the rights and responsibilities of each in the relationship and how the property should be divided, should a separation occur.

You can also grant the other person a power of attorney, designate them as a trustee for trust and name them in your will. This creates a pseudo-marriage through contract.

Nonetheless, even if that is not the case, you still may have some rights. You may have some tenancy rights, contractual rights, if you are on title, you are a co-owner, etc. Unfortunately, you may be in a much worse position than if you had married your spouse.