Are You Really Married in New Jersey If There is a Religious Wedding But No Marriage License?

marriage licenseI recently read a series of posts about the title of this blog post.  In all truth, I hadn’t really thought about it or had the issue come up.  Here’s what happened.

A person died with an estate where the decedent left a handwritten Will.  He has a “common law wife” of 30 years.  They were married in New York state.  The common law wife says they were married by a Rabbi in a traditional Jewish service but not in a civil service.  Is she arguably his wife and a class A beneficiary or a mere class D beneficiary for purposes of New Jersey death tax?

The decedent’s Last Will leaves his “spouse” one-third of his estate with two-thirds going to their two children (class A beneficiaries).  If the wife is a class D beneficiary, then the inheritance tax would be paid from her share of her estate.  I am basing this on the estate tax apportionment statute and Hale v. Leeds, 28 N.J. 277 (1958).

If she’s a common law wife, she’s a wife.  A common law marriage is a marriage just like a marriage with a ceremony.  If they entered into a common law marriage in New Jersey before December 1, 1939, they were still married.  N.J.S.A. § 37:1-10: http://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2013/title-37/section-37-1-10.  If they entered into a common law marriage in another state at a time when it was valid in that state and they moved to New Jersey, they were still married.

While New Jersey now requires a license in addition to a ceremony, if they were married in a ceremony in a state where a marriage with a ceremony but no license is valid, and they moved to New Jersey, they were still married.  For example, in New York, a marriage with a ceremony but no license is valid.

Contact me personally today to discuss your New Jersey estate administration matter.  I am easy to talk to, very approachable and can offer you practical, legal ways to handle your concerns.  You can reach me toll free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail me at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County New Jersey Estate Administration and Probate Law Attorney

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