CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In a decision published on Wednesday morning, the state supreme court has abolished common-law marriage in the Palmetto State.
A common law marriage is one without a formal wedding or license. Previous requirements included living with the other person, a mutual agreement between both parties to be married, and both parties must hold out to the public that they are married by examples such as filing joint tax returns or providing insurance coverage for the other person. It carries almost all the same rights as a typical marriage including spousal support and inheritance rights.
The ruling came down in the case Stone V. Thompson, the vote was 5-0 in favor of abolishment.
“Our review in this case has prompted us to take stock of common-law marriage as a whole in South Carolina,” Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in the majority opinion. “We have concluded the institution’s foundations have eroded with the passage of time, and the outcomes it produces are unpredictable and often convoluted. Accordingly, we believe the time has come to join the overwhelming national trend and abolish it. Therefore, from this date forward—that is, purely prospectively—parties may no longer enter into a valid marriage in South Carolina without a license. Consistent with our findings regarding the modern applicability of common-law marriage rationales, we also take this opportunity to refine the test courts are to employ henceforth.”
The ruling will not be retroactive, only prospective, meaning previous common-law marriages in the state are still valid.
The case involved a couple, Marion Stone and Susan Thompson, who met in the early 1980′s and became romantically involved. According to court documents, Thompson was married to another man at the time and obtained a divorce from him in 1987. Later that year, Stone and Thompson had their first child.
After Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989, the two had a second child and started living together. They continued to live, raise their children, and manage rental properties together for approximately twenty years, court documents stated.. The pair then ended their relationship after Thompson discovered Stone was having an affair, according to court documents.
In 2012, Stone filed an amended complaint in family court seeking a declaratory judgment stating the pair was common-law married, a divorce, and an equitable distribution of alleged marital property. Thompson answered, stating the two weren’t married and seeking dismissal of the case.
The Supreme Court overturned the family court decision that the couple was in a common-law marriage.