For a common-law marriage to exist under South Carolina law, mutual understanding or consent must be conveyed with such a demonstration of intent and with such clarity on the part of the parties that marriage does not creep up on either of them and catch them unaware. One cannot be married unwittingly or accidentally. The law of South Carolina clearly states that parties cannot find themselves husband and wife without intending to be married -- no matter how long the parties live together. Rather, there must be an intention on the part of both the parties to enter a marriage agreement or contract.
Sandra Jennings and William Hurt began living together while Hurt was still married to his former wife. In the spring of 1982, Jennings became pregnant. Between October 31, 1982 and January 10, 1983, the parties lived together and shared a bed in South Carolina. Hurt's divorce from his former wife became final on December 3, 1982. The parties never had a formal marriage ceremony and ceased living together in 1984. Subsequently, Jennings filed an action in a New York court alleging the existence of a common-law marriage under South Carolina law and claiming that while living together in South Carolina, the parties expressly agreed to marry and held themselves out as married.
Was Jennings considered as the common-law spouse of Hurt?
The New York court ruled that Jennings was not the common-law spouse of Hurt. The Court noted that common-law marriages were recognized under South Carolina law and that New York law gave effect to common-law marriages deemed valid under the law of the state in which the marriage supposedly occurred. The Court found that based on the totality of the evidence, the parties had neither entered into a mutual agreement that they were married while living together in South Carolina nor held themselves out as married.