Common-Law Marriage Not Recognized in Michigan
Marriage in Michigan is by marriage license & ceremony only. Living together is not enough.
Question: A Northville Patch reader asked, "Does Michigan recognize common-law marriages?"
Answer: The short answer is no. The long answer is a bit more interesting.
Common-law marriage is the term for a “marriage” that exists solely by agreement and by cohabitation. More simply, a common-law marriage exists when two people agree to live together to be “married.”
It is one of the fundamental rights that has existed in this country since the first settlers. This means that common-law marriage in this country predates the very first settlers that arrived in Northville in 1825.
In 1838, Michigan passed a law that stated that “marriages may be solemnized by any justice of the peace in the county in which he is chosen, and they may be solemnized throughout the state by any minister of the gospel who has been ordained.”
This was the first law enacted in Michigan in order to move away from the recognition of common-law marriage. The law was formalized in order to try to require either a justice of the peace or a minister to “solemnize” a marriage.
However, the law didn’t stick. In 1877, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Meister v Moore. This was a case about the validity of a common-law marriage between William Mowry and his wife, Mary. William Mowry lived with Mary for seven years, and then passed away. They had one daughter together, and if they were actually married under Michigan law, any property Mowry owned would eventually pass to his daughter. If Mowry wasn’t married under Michigan law, then any property he owned would pass to his mother.
The United States Supreme Court ruled that Michigan’s law of 1838 did not require that marriages be validated by a justice of a peace or a minister, but instead stated such authorization was discretionary. Thus, the common-law marriage of William and Mary was valid, and their daughter would eventually inherit any land that Mowry owned.
It appears that Michigan did not address this issue again until January 1, 1957, when it changed its law to require that marriages must result only from a marriage license. After January 1, 1957, mere consent to be married or cohabitation would not be enough. A couple wanting to marry and have their marriage recognized by Michigan law would have to apply for and receive a marriage license. After the marriage license was issued, the marriage would then have to be authorized by a judge, a mayor, a court clerk or a minister.
However, Michigan will recognize a common-law marriage that was entered into before January 1, 1957, and will also recognize a common-law marriage that was formed in another state that recognizes such common-law marriages under their law. Presently, only Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and the District of Columbia recognize common-law marriages.
Long story short, in Michigan, unless you have lived with someone with the agreement that you are married since December 31, 1956, Michigan will not acknowledge your common-law marriage.
In order to be married, you must apply for a marriage license, and have your marriage solemnized or authorized by persons specified by Michigan law. This also means that in Michigan, in order to receive all the benefits that a spouse receives – such as health care, property, and inheritance – just living together is not enough.
The information provided in this column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public website is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this website. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of law and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Reading the information contained in this column does not mean that you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Wendy Alton or the law firm of Fausone Bohn. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the website without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.