Just about everybody has heard of common law marriage. When a couple cohabits for enough time, they are considered to be man and wife for legal purposes. Some couples prefer to avoid traditional marriage and just share a common law marriage instead.

But the practice is slowly being phased out of existence as more and more states move to approach marriage from a traditional standpoint where an authorized individual (such as a pastor or a magistrate) administers the ceremonial rites in order to give a marriage validity.

Today we’re going to explore how Tennessee approaches the idea of common law marriage. We’ll start by seeing if Tennessee is a common law marriage state. Then from there, we’ll explore what happens if a common law couple comes to Tennessee, as well as whether or not you can get a divorce in Tennessee if you’re in a common law marriage.

Is Tennessee a Common Law Marriage State?

Tennessee is not a common law marriage state. That means that living together with a partner as husband and wife is not enough to count as a married couple legally. While most states once allowed for common law marriage, Tennessee has never approved of the practice.

This actually makes Tennessee rather unique among the various states. Most states, at one point or another, recognized common law marriage as a regular practice. However, that has been changing more with each passing year. One of the key reasons is that record keeping is a lot harder when common law marriage is allowed. Traditional marriage requires a marriage license, which creates easy-to-follow records of who is and isn’t married. Common law marriages didn’t, and that greatly increases the difficulty of keeping track of records.

States that do have common law marriage are: Texas, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. However, each individual state’s rules on what is required to be considered a common law marriage may vary. It is important that a couple comport themselves as man and wife, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally becoming common law married to your roommate.

We mention these states because while Tennessee is not a common law marriage state, it will still, for the most part, respect common law marriages that happened in those states. More on that next.

What Happens If a Common Law Married Couple Come to Tennessee?

In order to understand how Tennessee approaches common law marriages from out of state, we should first take a moment to examine the law of comity. This is an important law to understand for several reasons, with our current discussion simply being one of the ways that the law of comity affects people who travel or move between states.

Comity is the term used to describe how the courts of one state respect the judicial decisions of courts in other states, or even just in other jurisdictions. For example, if you are convicted of murder in California and flee to Texas, the latter state would still consider you to have been convicted of the crime and thus fleeing from the law. This is an extreme example.

For a more subtle example, we simply have to look at the way that Tennessee deals with common law marriages that happened out of state. If a couple are common law married in Colorado and then come to Tennessee, that marriage would still be valid. However, if that couple moves from Colorado prior to being common law married then they could not become common law married here in Tennessee.

This is very important for a few reasons. For one, married couples have to approach certain legal issues from a very different perspective compared to unmarried couples. Taxes, for one, are quite different when married.

It is also important because it means that you can’t simply get a divorce by moving. Moving from a state where you are common law married to a state that doesn’t have common law marriage is not akin to getting a divorce. You would still have to go through the divorce process if that was what you were looking to do.

The recognition of common law marriages this way does, however, mean that common law married couples can seek a divorce in Tennessee.

Can You Get a Divorce From a Common Law Marriage in Tennessee?

You can seek a divorce in Tennessee if you are common law married, but it may be a bit of a trickier process than a normal divorce. There are no special divorce proceedings for common law marriages, they proceed pretty much as every divorce does.

The reason that they are more difficult is that the individual who files for divorce has the burden of proving that the common law marriage exists. Unlike a traditional marriage that has a certificate and license, a common law marriage doesn’t really have paperwork to prove itself. But it has to be proved since a failure to do so will have the divorce case dismissed.

Additional proof that could help to show a common law marriage exists could include:

  • Sharing a surname
  • Publically acting as man and wife
  • Showing that income taxes have been filed jointly
  • Sharing children
  • Actively referring to themselves as husband and wife
  • Filing for bankruptcy together
  • Continuous cohabitation
  • Co-owning a business
  • Naming each other as spouses for health insurance and other paperwork
  • Sharing bank accounts or interweaving finances together

What Should I Do If I’m Not Sure I’m In a Common Law Marriage?

If you are unsure whether or not you are in a common law marriage, or if you are looking to get a divorce from a common law marriage, then it pays to speak to an experienced divorce attorney. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to help you figure out everything you need to know about your situation so you can make an informed decision about what steps you want to take, what information you need to gather, and anything else that may affect the outcome of your stated goal.