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Are you really married?

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

A recent case published by the Michigan court of appeals Lueck v Lueck No. 341018. 5/21/2019, gives us pause to look at what you need to do to be legally married in the State of Michigan.

In this case the parties agreed to a divorce and spousal support was ordered pursuant to the agreement at the rate of $10,000 per month for 10 years to end only upon death or remarriage.

The ex wife fell in love with the man of her dreams and being very religious wanted to have a spiritual blessing before committing to living together with her new love. However she loved receiving her spousal support and did not want to give it up. She consulted with her priest and her lawyer, who advised that she could have her spiritual blessing provided she did not get a license to be married. Being so advised she went through the spiritual event and began living with her new love as spiritual husband and wife. Ex husband heard about the wedding and immediately filed a motion in court to terminate the spousal support asking for attorney fees for having to file to get spousal support stopped.

The trial court after hearing the testimony of the parties felt that the wife’s claim of no marriage was not ethically correct and as a court of equity granted husband’s motion to terminate spousal support.

The Ex wife immediately filed her claim of appeal with the Court of Appeals again asserting that she was not legally married. The court of appeals ruled that Michigan outlawed common law marriage in January of 1957 and that if you marry in Michigan you can only do so by acquiring a marriage license. No license, no marriage. The appeals court reinstated the spousal support order.

However, Michigan does recognize marriages made in any other state if married in accord with that state's laws. (the term state also refers to countries) So common law marriages, though barred in Michigan are recognized if legal in the state in which it occurred.

There are eight states that recognize a common law marriage in some form and believe it or not so does the District of Columbia. If you are living with someone and visit one of these states and sign a hotel registry as husband and wife you might be coming back to Michigan as married!

Today the following states still have common law marriages: Colorado. Iowa, Kansas, Montana,Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and the District of Columbia.

Generally a common law marriage exists If there is:

  1. a present intent and agreement to be married

  2. continuous cohabitation

  3. a public declaration that the parties are husband and wife.

  4. you are single and not a minor.

A hotel registration of two single adult people could satisfy both one and three. Living together satisfies two.

Michigan also does not recognize marriages between members of the same family such as brother and sister, first cousins, under age marriages, and second marriages when there is in existence a valid previous marriage. These marriages are void in Michigan. See MCL551.1 et seq.

In cases where people come in to this country with legal multiple marriages in the country of origin, Michigan will only recognize the first marriage. Michigan did not for a period of time by law recognize same sex marriages; the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Obergefell v Hodges ruled that such a prohibition was contrary to the 14th amendment of our Constitution and as a result of this ruling, Michigan now recognizes same sex marriages as well.

If you're facing family law issues, call our office at 269-381-4471.

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