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Franklin Divorce Attorney > Blog > Family > Can I Have a Common Law Marriage in Tennessee?

Can I Have a Common Law Marriage in Tennessee?


There are many reasons to be legally married – beyond the romantic notions of love and family, there are significant legal and financial benefits that might be had as well. But for others, getting a legal marriage is not a top priority. They are happy to live together as though they were married, without going through the official marriage processes of the state.

Throughout U.S. history, many states have recognized “common law marriages.” These arrangements might occur if a couple lives together and holds themselves out to be a married couple. If the couple filled all of the required tenets where a couple lives together as though they are married People choose to get married for many different reasons. By that same token, many couples choose never to marry at all, even though in all other aspects they live their lives as though they are married. This arrangement is recognized in many states as something called a “common law marriage.”

Being recognized as a partner in a common law marriage comes with some legal benefits. The question of whether a common law marriage may apply to you often arises when a long-term unmarried couple is facing the prospect of splitting up. In Tennessee, can a legally-unwed couple benefit from the rights granted to couples in a common law marriage? This article aims to explain the issue.

Common Law Marriage

Common Law Marriage is an old, old concept. It was created in order to grant protections to people who, for all intents and purposes, have been operating as a married couple. They simply never got the marriage certificate and performed the legal necessities to make it legal under the law.

Not every couple who has been together for a long time, or even lived together for a time, will meet the requirements for being recognized as a common law married couple. This is for a couple of reasons, all having to do with varying state law.

Firstly, not every state recognizes the concept of common law marriage. This means you do not even have to check and see if you fit the requirements – there are no requirements because the state does not allow for such recognition at all.

Second, even if you are in a state that recognizes common law marriages, you must meet the requirements set by the state. In order to be recognized as a common law married couple in that state, you must meet whatever requirements are set by the state to gain that recognition. State law is unique, and varies by state. So you must ensure that you understand the rules that would apply to you in your state in your circumstances.

Some of the items that might be considered by courts in various states that recognize common law marriage might include:

  • Has the couple been cohabitating? For how long?
  • Does the couple share children? Are they raising children together?
  • Has the couple been holding themselves out as a married couple to family and friends?
  • Is the couple one unit financially? Do they share joint bank accounts, and/or other financial information?

What About Tennessee?

Tennessee is rather unique. Many states, at one time or another, did have a process for recognizing common law marriage under the law. Tennessee has never developed a law under which people could establish themselves as a common law married couple.

It is important to understand – this is not to say that there is no recognition of common law marriage in Tennessee. Tennessee does abide by “comity,” which means that a couple who has established a common law marriage in another state may have their union recognized in Tennessee, as well.


Comity refers to the practice of one state honoring the judicial decisions of another state. What this means, for example, is that if someone is convicted of murder in Tennessee and flees the state to Oklahoma, Oklahoma would consider that Tennessee conviction as valid. That individual would be treated as one fleeing the law.

Because of comity, if a couple has established a common law marriage according to the laws of one state, if that couple moves to Tennessee, then Tennessee will honor that common law marriage. It is important to understand your rights under varying state laws, and confer with legal experts on your own unique circumstances.

Contact Fort, Holloway & Rogers

Contact the esteemed Franklin family lawyers at Fort, Holloway & Rogers today to discuss any questions you have concerning your marriage or custody rights.




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