Rhode Island Common Law Marriage

Rhode Island is one of a few states which continues to recognize common-law marriage.  There is no specific time period that the parties must reside together, instead the existence of such a marriage must be established by clear and convincing evidence that the parties seriously intended to enter into the husband-wife relationship.  Additionally, the parties must have been of such a character as to lead to a belief in the community that they were married.  A formal ceremony is not a prerequisite to the existence of a common-law marriage.

Factors in Determining the Existence of a Common-Law Marriage

When determining whether the parties seriously intended to enter into a husband-wife relationship, the Rhode Island Family Court Judge will look to the following factors:

  • Marital status as set forth in federal and state income tax returns
  • Ownership of real estate as husband and wife as tenants by the entirety
  • Acquisition of large items, such as automobiles, jointly
  • Designation of beneficiaries on life insurance policies
  • Designation of beneficiaries on retirement assets
  • Existence of joint bank accounts
  • Existence of joint debt and obligations
  • Nature of estate planning documentation
  • Joint coverage under health and automobile insurace policies
  • Referral to the other party as "husband" or "wife"
  • Holding yourselves out in the community as husband and wife

The party asserting the existence of common law marriage has the burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence that there existed a belief in the community that the parties were married.

Practical Implications of Marriage by Common Law

If you are recognized as a married couple by common law you could enjoy many of the same benefits as legally-married couples such as:

  • Becoming eligible to receive Social Security survivors and spousal benefits.
  • Being able to qualify for employer benefits through your spouse (health insurance, life insurance, etc.).
  • Being exempt from the gift tax.
  • Being able to both claim deductions for mortgage interest (if you co-own a house).
  • Being able to make medical decisions for your spouse if he/she is unable to do so.
  • Eligibility to claim spousal pension or annuity benefits.

Should your relationship be irrevocably broken, the Rhode Island Family Court would possess jurisdiction to terminate the marriage, make an award of assets and liabilities, order the continuation of health insurance, divide retirement benefits, and award spousal support.

Rhode Island Common Law Marriage Attorney

Should you wish to assert the existence of common law marriage, or if you have been served a Complaint for Divorce alleging the same, you need to speak to a Rhode Island Family Court Attorney experienced in handling such matters.  Contact Attorney Christopher E. Friel to discuss your common law marriage issues at 401-737-4200 x23.