Is there such a thing as common law marriage?
"Common Law Marriage is defined as a marriage in which the parties did not obtain a license or go through a recognized ceremony, but lived together as married. New York does not recognize common law marriage from living together only in New York State. But, you can have a common law marriage recognized in New York if: a. You were common law married in a state that permits common law marriage and then move to New York, or B. You have lived together in New York and traveled to and cohabited in one of the other states such as Pennsylvania, South Carolina or Colorado, which recognizes common law marriage, while "holding yourselves out" as being married, meaning that you acted as though you were married. As little as an overnight trip to a common law state can be enough to qualify for recognition of common law marriage in New York.”
This little tidbit from http://www.divorceinfo.com/nyfaqsmiscellaneous.htm regarding how New York State handles the issue of common law marriage was more interesting to me for everything it didn’t say then for what it did. The last sentence pointing out how even one “overnight trip to a common law state can be enough to qualify for recognition of common law marriage in New York” was quite an eye-opener. Because my first thought was, why bother with this little bit of confusion for people? If your state decided to not recognize common law marriages, just don’t. However after thinking about it a little more I came to the conclusion that it was probably linked to a constitutional issue of all states being required to recognize one another laws. That’s why it’s such a problem if we let ONE state decide to pass a law unfairly restricting the rights of it’s residents or conversely deciding to unilaterally expand them in some fashion with no consultation with the rest of the nation.
This started me thinking about the history of common law marriage and why it ultimately evolved into policy differences, where some states would recognize it and others would not. I mean if it is a good public policy for one state, common sense would dictate why not for all? If it’s not, then no state should be allowed to recognize it.
Of course, I am an American History major from an excellent university, yet, much of what I studied focused on the ‘great man’ theory of history. The Washington, Lincoln, Geronimo histories where one man’s actions drove the historic events of the day and everything from freeing the slaves to ending the Indian wars in the west was dependent upon that man’s initiative or lack thereof. It never really looked at the masses of common people and how the actions of millions of ordinary persons really drove history in certain directions. The institution of common law marriage is a good example of this.
I, like everyone else I think, automatically assumed that our ancestors were generally more conservative about all social issues then we are today. Thus, I assumed that common law marriages were actually something that only became a legal issue in the social upheavals that followed the radical 60s. However I was surprised recently to read a Pennsylvania Judge’s ruling that struck down Pennsylvania’s common law marriage recognition with the rationale that we had outgrown the need for it now (see below).
"Many sound reasons exist to abandon a system that allows the determination of important rights to rest on evidence fraught with inconsistencies, ambiguities and vagaries," Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter wrote in a decision filed Wednesday.
She added that the circumstances that created a need for common law marriage -- namely, the potential unavailability of a preacher in Colonial times and the dependence of women on men for support -- have dissipated.
BTW, It’s always interesting to me who the people are making these decisions regarding what women don’t NEED anymore. From custody of our children to support from our husband it’s generally some feminist Judge (making far more then most women, especially when we chose to become mothers) as the main advocate for abolition of the protections that it only took a couple of hundred years of American civilization for women to negotiate for ourselves. Now, she just tossed out the window one of the more important ones because SHE obviously wasn’t in need of it. This Judge, of course, automatically assumes that every woman exists with the income of an attorney (probably making upwards of $100,000 annually) and thus, is in no need of a husband for support.
As always we can count on gender neutralized feminists to screw us up in every situation, common law marriage being another example. THEY don’t need it, thus no woman does.
Obviously they have not taken the time to look around at the social landscape in the last few decades and observe what is going on today. As when feminism in their push for equal rights for women winded up inadvertently empowering men instead, while shooting ordinary women in the foot vis-à-vis the institution of marriage. I believe feminists assumed that women could engage in casual sex for years just as men did and still be able to negotiate marriage after the fact. Unfortunately that has not proven to be the case. As many men appear to consider casual sex to be the end of the relationship, not the means to an end, (a legal marriage) which most women envisioned.
It should be pretty obvious right now (as it was to Augustus Caesar when he faced a similar situation in Rome) that when men have other alternatives to getting sex outside of lawful marriages, such as owning female slaves or residing in societies where ordinary women think it empowers them to have casual sex with every idiot they run into, that men tend to NOT bother marrying. Quite frankly with casual sex so available throughout our society, many men appear to have no need or desire to get married anymore. Unfortunately, the classic “Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free” analogue is a crude but quite adequate explanation for much marriage avoidance behavior today.
Thus, even though the history of common law marriage began due to early American pioneer families residing great distances from preachers, it has now obviously evolved into the only way our society can push men into a lawful, albeit coerced by the state, marriage with the women they are residing with and fathering children upon. Unfortunately too many man would just as soon not bother making that legal commitment anymore especially since never-married fathers now get the same rights as married fathers; thus making it even less likely that men will bother marrying. Why should they? Additionally, it has actually come to the point that if women wish to EVER have children, before dying of old age that is, many are being forced to make the decision to just go ahead and have children alone. Which then leads into our current predicament where 36% of all children are born to single mothers.
So it seems to me we have one of two choices here.
We can accept the fact that a large number of women are going to have children alone, as they simply don’t have the time to negotiate over and over with a reluctant suitor (such as the David Letterman, Stephen Bing types) before deciding to go ahead and have children. The female biological time clock is simply not as long-running as the male one. Or we better start revisiting some of those old common law marriage statues and see what we can do in that area. Otherwise we are simply going to have to begin revising far more public policies and tax codes in order to provide the financial and custodial stability that these mothers are going to need in order to raise many of society’s children alone.