I Never Got a Maryland Marriage License. Is My Marriage Still Valid Without One?

Any time you are going through a divorce is a good time to retain the services of an experienced Maryland family law attorney. However, if your divorce case involves facts or issues that are particularly complex or unique, then you have an especially high need for skillful legal representation, who will guide you through the process and keep that unusual element from harming you.

There are lots of ways a case can take a turn into the realm of the “unusual.” Take for example, this dispute from Anne Arundel County. The husband, T.K., and the wife, W.R., married in 2003. Thirteen years later, the wife died. Those facts weren’t unusual. What was unusual was that, at no point during those 13 years did the couple ever get a marriage license. The two of them signed a document they entitled a “Marriage Agreement” and they went through a marriage ceremony in an Annapolis Anglican church officiated by an ordained minister, but the marriage license was a step that was never completed.

This absence of a marriage license was eventually at the center of a legal dispute and forced the Maryland Court of Appeals to answer a critical question: is a marriage in which the spouse never obtained a license valid in Maryland?

The court said it was. To answer the question, the court acknowledged three different kinds of marriages. The first type was marriages where the spouses obtained a Maryland license. These marriages are, of course, almost always valid.

The second type was common-law marriage. Those are, according to the court, marriages where two people “agree to be married, hold themselves out as married, and cohabit as a married couple” but never undergo a formal marriage ceremony.” Maryland law is very clear that you cannot form a common-law marriage in this state, no matter how long you and your partner have been together.

It’s worth noting, though, that there are situations in which Maryland courts will recognize a common-law marriage. Several states, including the District of Columbia, still recognize common-law marriages. Say, for example, you entered into a common-law marriage in D.C., later moved to Maryland and eventually needed to obtain a Maryland divorce. As long as your marriage met all of D.C.’s legal requirements for a valid common-law marriage there, then the Maryland courts will recognize it and give you your Maryland divorce.

The definition, and the validity, of a ‘ceremonial marriage’ in Maryland

T.K.’s marriage, however, fell into neither of those circumstances. His fell into a third category that Maryland calls “ceremonial marriage.” That’s when two people go through a religious ceremony but never obtain a state marriage license. According to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland law says that ceremonial marriage is valid and recognizable in this state. That meant that T.K. and W.R.’s marriage was valid under Maryland law.

T.K.’s case wasn’t a divorce action — it was a dispute about ownership of a condo in Odenton. Nevertheless, this case is very important for people who may be seeking a divorce and divorce-related relief, including perhaps alimony and asset division. To get those things, you first have to have a valid marriage and, if your spouse is opposing you on these issues, he/she may try to use the absence of a valid marriage as an argument against the relief you’ve requested.

Success, then, requires an understanding of the law of marriage in this state, and knowing how to prove that your marriage was a valid one under the law. Whether or not your divorce requires tackling any particularly unique issues of law, it can still benefit from the skill and knowledge of an experienced attorney. For that kind of powerful legal representation, rely on the Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide you with clear advice and effective strategies your family deserves. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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