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Utah Court of Appeals decides what makes a 'common-law' marriage

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Posted at 8:04 AM, Feb 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-15 10:04:12-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals has weighed in on what makes a "common-law" marriage in the state.

In a decision published Saturday, the state appeals court decided a case involving a man and a woman that had been together from 2009 to 2017, including four marriage proposals. The case had gone to court for purposes of dividing assets.

The woman petitioned the court to declare a "common-law marriage," meaning it would be recognized as a marriage. However, the Utah Court of Appeals declined to because of one key thing.

"Specifically, the district court concluded that although [the woman] met four of the elements required to establish the existence of a common-law marriage, she did not satisfy the final elements requiring the parties to hold themselves out as a married couple and to acquire a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife. We affirm," Judge David Mortensen wrote in the opinion.

The court said there was evidence to show they did not purport to be a husband and wife, but did give impression that they were in a long-term committed relationship. Still it was holding themselves out as a married couple that was critical to the courts.

"The unchallenged findings indicate at least some of the parties’ friends and family did not consider them to be married and the parties did not consistently represent themselves to be husband and wife," Judge Mortensen wrote.

Common-law marriages are rare in Utah. They have been used in polygamy prosecutions. During the trial of polygamist Tom Green in 2001, Juab County prosecutors successfully petitioned the court to declare a "common-law marriage" between Green and his wives for the purposes of the bigamy case.