Creating a Marriage without a Wedding
If you have been in a serious relationship, and have been living with the other person, you may be able to have a court recognize your relationship as a marriage, even without having a formal wedding. Courts have developed this idea of a “judicially recognized marriage” to protect the interests of people who rely upon another during a relationship, but have been unable to go through the formal wedding process for one reason or another. Some individuals may choose to petition a court for a judicially recognized marriage after the relationship ends either because they are seeking some sort of spousal support, or because the separation was caused by a death, and the surviving person wants to be recognized as a spouse for inheritance purposes and/or insurance, retirement, and survivor benefits. Other reasons that a person may want a judicially recognized marriage is that the parties are separating and one or both persons want property divided; or one person has passed away and the other wants to claim damages in a wrongful death action.
A judicially recognized marriage occurs whenever one person in the relationship (or both parties) petitions the court for a judicial recognition of marriage. If the court decides that certain requirements are met, the court will grant the petition and the parties will be considered “married” from the date that all of the conditions have been met. In this way, it is possible to “backdate” a marriage, however, this process can sometimes be much more costly and more time consuming then actually going through an official marriage ceremony, therefore some couples who could receive judicial recognition, choose to go through the ceremony instead to save time and money.
In order for a court to recognize a marriage, a man and woman who have been in a relationship must prove to the court that a marriage has arisen out of an agreement and that the two: (1) are of legal age and capable of giving consent; (2) are legally capable of entering into a solemnized marriage; (3) have lived together; (4) treat each other as though they are married; and (5) present themselves to the public so that other people believe they are married. In order to prove the first factor, that there was consent to the marriage between the two people, courts will typically use the following pieces of evidence: (1) whether there was a written agreement; (2) testimony of others who were present when the agreement was made; (3) whether there are joint banking and credit accounts; (4) whether property was purchased jointly and owned jointly; (5) whether one person used the surname of the other person; (6) whether the couple filed taxes jointly; (7) whether the couple spoke of each other as being married; and (7) whether the couple executed documents while living together such as deeds, wills, and other important documents. (See Whyte v. Blair, 885 P.2d 791 (Utah 1994)).
Either person in the relationship (or both persons) may petition the court to have the marriage judicially recognized, however, the petition must be filed during the relationship or within one year after the relationship ends. A third party, usually next of kin, may also petition the court for a judicially recognized marriage.
For more information on how to petition the court for a judicially recognized marriage see http://www.utcourts.gov/howto/marriage/commonlaw/