On July 24, 2019, the South Carolina Supreme Court stated common law marriage is no longer viable from this date forward. In the landmark decision, Stone v. Thompson, heard June 13, 2019, the Justices ended the practice of common law marriage.
First, common law marriage is where two people are deemed married after having displayed the intent to want to be married despite not having a marriage license. This practice was in use for a number of reasons. One of the most common reasons was the difficulty to get to the courthouse to obtain a license due to inability to travel and how long it took, especially for those who lived in rural communities. Another reason was to ensure that children were legitimate. Yet with the change of time both in regards of ease of travel and the ever changing dynamics of a family unit, these concerns are not of merit anymore.
This ruling is proactive only; meaning it begins July 24, 2019 and moves forward. From that date on wards, no one can enter into a common law marriage as it is now officially non-existent. Further, the Justices did define the parameters of how to prove common law marriage from prior to July 24, 2019. In order to prove common law marriage, the Justices clearly state it has to be at the clear and convincing level of evidence. “Therefore, we hold the “clear and convincing evidence” standard utilized in probate matters should also apply to living litigants. This is an intermediate standard -more than a preponderance, but less than beyond a reasonable doubt -and requires a party to show a degree of proof sufficient to produce a firm belief in the allegations south to be established.”
With that said, if you believe you are in a common law marriage prior to July 24, 2019 and are separating, it is imperative that you confer with a lawyer for this standard adds a significant burden on those claiming common law marriage.