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There's More than One Way to Get Down the Isle: Common Law Marriages and Commitment Ceremonies

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

In addition to being a Wedding Planner, I am also a South Carolina Notary Public and ordained wedding minister. That means when I'm not executing an event for a couple I'm up in front of the wedding arch performing a legally binding marriage. This involves two people going through some type of process to purchase legally binding documents that will tie them together both in love and in court. But what about those who don't really believe in that form of marriage?? As an Officiant I haven't been asked to do this but there are people who opt for what are called Commitment Ceremonies. This is where you go through performing a ceremony to show your love and commitment to another person without signing any legal papers. Now I know some of you probably are thinking , “ Well what's the point of doing THAT?” Some people feel like they don't need to be legally bound to one another in order to live a happy life. ( Look at Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn…) They want to have the same type of celebration of love that everyone has without having to make it legal. This brought me to a question. Well what about common law marriage?

The basic definition of a common law marriage is a non legally binding agreement between two people to consider themselves married. They are not required to have any type of ceremony. Currently there are 9 states that recognize common law marriage:



New Hampshire




Rhode Island



*The District of Columbia also recognizes Common Law Marriage

** Based on what I've read there are quite a few nuances to Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma. I recommend you speak with a lawyer.

In addition, There are a few states that recognize common law marriages that came to be before the state stopped recognizing them.

Alabama ( before January 1, 2017

Florida (before January , 1, 1968)

Georgia (before January 1, 1997)

Idaho (before January 1, 1996)

Indiana (before January 1, 1958)

Ohio (before October 10, 1991)

Pennsylvania (before January 1, 2005)

South Carolina (before July 24, 2019)

Now each state is different when it comes to the laws governing common law marriage but generally speaking if you had a common law marriage in the states listed above before those dates the law still recognizes you as being a married person which would mean that you would have to go through some of the same processes a legally married couple would in order to dissolve your union.


Well, ALOT. I am by no means downing anybody’s decisions when it comes to how they want to live their lives. However I strongly believe that you should check your state laws and make sure that this is something that will work for you and your partner.

Another term you may hear is domestic partnership. This is an unmarried cohabiting couple that has eligibility for spousal benefits. You may not be legally bound to your domestic partner like a traditional marriage or even a common law marriage but there is definitely a process that has to be completed in order to begin and end a domestic partnership. In most places it's called a Domestic partnership agreement. When you decide to end the partnership it's called a Dissolution of a Domestic Partnership. According to The process for terminating a domestic partnership varies between states. In some jurisdictions, ending a domestic partnership is as simple as filing a Notice of Termination with the Secretary of State. In other jurisdictions, domestic partners must dissolve their relationship through divorce or annulment proceedings.

Creating a union with someone special is always a beautiful thing. However, there are situations that arise that can be not so beautiful when dealing with another individual. You may not believe in or want to participate in a traditional legally binding ceremony but there are other situations that can be just as messy and hard to get out of. Educate yourself. Speak with your partner and figure out what works best for your relationship.

As always I wish you the best on your journey to YOUR Happily Ever After!

Ever thought about becoming a South Carolina Officiant? Let me teach you! Go to to get on the waiting list for the winter Officiant training class!

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