Information on Common Law Marriages in Tennessee

By Danielle Smyth

Updated January 29, 2020

Today, the term common law marriage has become somewhat generalized. We joke about couples who have lived together for long periods of time and how that means they are, in fact, actually married. In truth, common law marriage is still a type of marriage in the United States. It’s just that most states don’t recognize it within their own borders.

As it turns out, common law marriage is less about the time of cohabitation and more about the couple’s intention to be married and the way they present their union to the world. Couples are not, in fact, automatically married after living together for seven years unless they live in a state that recognizes the practice and the couple specifically intend this outcome.

What Is a Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage deems two people as married when they have not gone through a formal civil or religious marriage service and are not registered as married. It’s a case in which two partners behave as if they are married and represent themselves as married, but no formal marriage ceremony has been performed.

The evidence of a marriage, in these cases, is based on the two spouses presenting themselves as married to the general public, which is not a requirement for traditionally married couples. In some jurisdictions, where common law marriage is still a legal concept, the couple is required to have been living together for a certain amount of time before the marriage can be considered valid.

Read More: What Is Common Law Marriage?

Jurisdictions Allowing Common Law Marriage

In the United States, common law marriage can occur in seven states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah) and the District of Columbia.

Each of these jurisdictions has different requirements in terms of declaration and cohabitation period, but once these requirements are met, the couple is considered married. Once a couple is considered married by common law, their marriage must be recognized in all other states, even if those states do not themselves legitimize common law marriage.

Domestic Partnerships in Tennessee

The term domestic partnership describes the relationship between two people who live together and share their lives but who are not formally married. A domestic partnership is a label for a legal relationship, although it’s different from marriage. Domestic partners are those who live together and are looking to gain the same benefits from society that married couples receive.

In the United States, a number of states recognize domestic partnerships as legal entities, which gives partners rights under certain circumstances (medical, financial, etc.), but not all states recognize these partnerships as legal. This is because the concept of a domestic partnership has become intertwined with the political/social issues of same-sex marriage.

Common Law Marriage in Tennessee (TN)

Tennessee does not recognize common law marriages. Even if the couple has been living together in Tennessee for many years, their cohabitation does not qualify as a marriage unless a valid marriage license has been filed with the state under Tennessee law. While Tennessee will recognize common law marriages that occurred in other states, for individuals who live there, formal marriage is a requirement.

To be legally recognized as married in Tennessee, the couple must have a valid marriage license issued by a city clerk, signed by an authorized person (legal or religious authority) at a formal ceremony, and then filed by the city clerk and added to the state records. This means domestic partnerships are not recognized legally as well. While couples can work with their lawyer to create individual documents declaring their domestic partner as, say, next-of-kin for medical emergencies, there’s no guarantee these documents will be recognized if issues are brought before a civil court.