Divorce & Common Law Marriages

Comedian Ron White’s wife is filing for divorce, and the duration of their marriage could be a major point of contention. Margo Rey filed divorce pleadings last week in Los Angeles, mentioning they had a common law marriage in Texas.

If the couple have had a common law marriage in Texas since 2008, long before they officially got married, they may be considered married in the eyes of the law, if they live together as husband and wife, and hold themselves out in public as a married couple.

The answer to their dispute about the length of the marriage may be important as it relates to property division and alimony.

Margo says she wants Ron to pay spousal support. The issue of the common law marriage may have been raised so she can argue that her marriage could be a few years longer, and thereby entitling her to more alimony.

Florida Common Law Marriages

Florida deems common law marriages void. What about a common law marriage from another state? I have written about a unique case in South Carolina before, and the White divorce raises it again.

In South Carolina, Debra Parks wanted her relationship to be considered a common-law marriage under South Carolina law. Parks is gay. But until 2014, same-sex marriage was illegal.

In a groundbreaking case for South Carolina, a Family Court judge has ruled that Parks and her former partner had a common-law marriage under state law. And the state must recognize that their common-law marriage has been legal for almost 30 years, the judge ruled.

The South Carolina ruling immediately becomes a legal precedent, and has the potential to impact thousands of people in same sex relationships because it backdates the period of effect to the beginning of the common-law marriage.

South Carolina is one of eight states that recognize common law marriage. The case is important because same sex marriages were not recognized until 2014 and left an entire group of people “out in the cold” without the protections the law provides to heterosexual couples.

Florida law is different. No common-law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968, is valid in Florida. The South Carolina case could create a conflict between Florida Statutes – which makes common law marriages in Florida void as of 1968, the Parks case, which recognizes the creation of same-sex, common law marriages in South Carolina.

Interstate Problems

The generally established principle is that the validity of a marriage is determined by the law of the place where the marriage occurred. So, while Florida no longer recognizes common law marriages, nevertheless, it may be forced to recognize the validity of common law marriages in other states.

The TMZ article on the White divorce is here.