June 2021

Common Law Marriage Truth and Fiction

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Since people don’t seem to be marrying like they used to, I wanted to make a video about common law marriage since that is what some people consider themselves, but are they really married? Subscribe to Love Beyond The Sea where I detail what I’ve learned in six years of marriage to an amazing woman I married in less than eight weeks. Some may think our marriage was based on false pretenses, it will never work, age gap and different culture. Well, for some of you, going where you’re wanted is going to be your last chance at marriage, and for others of you (younger men) you could go overseas and find a marriage-minded woman who would even want a family.

On Love Beyond The Sea where you will learn from my experiences as I honestly talk about the need to pursue hard for a wife so you are not spending your life alone, which is a sad way to go. If I got married, why can’t you? I don’t think I’m chopped liver but I had the hardest time getting married. The Guinness Book of World Records was constantly calling me up to see how long the streak of not having a bonafide girlfriend was. I think all bets must have been off that I would find someone.

What Makes Someone Married? Why Get Married? This was the first part in a Playlist I will call Valid Marriage and the second upload was What or Who Determines if Someone IS Married? Today I want to talk about common law marriage and I will follow up with some original thoughts of my own. I had heard about this term since I was young and there are some misconceptions about common law marriage, and I am going to use an article from a link in gotquestions.org to talk about it.

Common law marriage may be defined differently in different states, but, in general, a common law marriage can be thought of as a romantic relationship legally recognized as a marriage without the need to purchase a marriage license and without being “made official” with a ceremony. Usually, to be eligible for a common law marriage, a couple must have a marriage-like lifestyle: they live together, agree that they are married, and present themselves to others as husband and wife. Also, neither one of the individuals is already married to someone else. Webster’s New College Dictionary defines common law marriage as follows: “A marriage existing by mutual agreement and cohabitation between a man and a woman without a civil or religious ceremony.”

A common misperception is that, if you live together for a certain length of time (seven years is what many people believe), then you are common-law married. This is not true anywhere in the United States.

The Bible does not speak of common law marriage. Genesis 2:21–24 shows God’s original plan for marriage and will serve as the basis for the biblical definition of marriage: “So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

In the first few chapters of Genesis, God fills the earth with large numbers of different kinds of life. He doesn’t just put a few fish in the ocean; it “teems” with them (Genesis 1:21). But when it comes to mankind, He makes just one male and one female, and those two were to become “one flesh.” The implication of Genesis 2:24 is that this “one woman for one man for one lifetime” principle was not just for Adam and Eve but for all who would ever be born. Jesus commented on this passage when the Jewish leaders brought up the topic of divorce: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:6–9).

In order to evaluate common law marriage, we should understand that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, creating a new entity, a new “whole” (one flesh). This union is brought about by a mutual commitment before God (expressed today through a public vow) to forsake all others, to keep themselves only unto their partner, and to act in the best interest of the other (to love), and to seek to fulfill God’s purposes for their lives as a new unit. This commitment is to last as long as they both shall live (1 Corinthians 7:39).

In appraising common law marriage, we should also remember that marriage is not merely a “friendship.” Although it is not the “consummation” that begins the actual marriage (or Joseph and Mary would not have been married until after Christ was born—Matthew 1:25), sexual activity is understood to be a natural part of marriage (Exodus 21:10Hebrews 13:4). Today, the exchanging of vows during a wedding ceremony is the vocalized commitment that was understood between biblical couples such as Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24:67.

Some of God’s purposes for marriage are companionship (Genesis 2:18), procreation (Genesis 1:28), mutual and undefiled pleasure (1 Corinthians 7:4–5Proverbs 5:18–19; Song of Solomon; Hebrews 13:4), prevention of immorality (1 Corinthians 7:25), service of Christ, the representation of the spiritual relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22–33), and the rearing of godly descendants (Malachi 2:13–16). The bond of marriage (when respected) leads to the good of the couple and their children and society as a whole, for the family unit is the building block of any society.

While marriages throughout most of biblical history involved some type of public ceremony (and celebration), such a ceremony is not required for a biblical marriage to have taken place. In the case of Isaac and Rebekah and others, no ceremony is recorded (Genesis 24:67). But a shared ingredient between common law marriage and one involving a ceremony is a publicly expressed intent to be married. Two people living together without that expressed intent are not in a common law marriage; they are just cohabiting. Isaac and Rebekah did not just begin living together; there was a clear expression of intent that their union be of a permanent nature (see Genesis 24:5157).

Another common ingredient of common law marriage and one involving a ceremony and license is its legal standing. In order for a common law marriage to be dissolved, a legal divorce must be obtained. (Again, in God’s original intent for marriage, there should be no divorce.) Another trait of the model marriages in the Bible, whether or not they involved a public ceremony, is that there was no sexual activity prior to the marriage—there was no cohabiting.

From a biblical perspective, there are a few troublesome issues about common law marriage. Two of the biblical purposes of marriage are (1) to use the union to serve Christ as a new unit and (2) to represent the greater reality of the union between Christ and His church. Historically, common law marriage came into being because there were small villages in England to which a church or government official was unable to travel on a regular basis. Common law marriage allowed a couple to legally get married without the presence of an official. There was still the component of a public declaration of their intent to marry before cohabiting.

During World War II, common law marriages took place in Japanese prison camps between prisoners expressing a similar public declaration of intent. But for Christians under normal circumstances, a public ceremony in a church enables them to begin their union before family and friends with a testimony of their intent to serve Christ and a witness of their salvation in Christ.

Christians are to “aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” (2 Corinthians 8:21, ESV; cf. Romans 12:17). It is important that their marriages are honorable in man’s sight. Common law marriage is held to be legal marriage in a minority of states. Even then, there are strict requirements governing the recognition of such unions. In states that allow common law marriage, as long as the law is followed, a common law marriage is not sinful. At the same time, every Christian should desire to live above reproach so that Christ can be honored in all that he or she does (1 Corinthians 10:31). A Christian couple should carefully weigh the options, consider their public testimony, and evaluate their own motives for dispensing with a public ceremony.

Forsaking all others, not merely a friendship, permanence, serve Christ. As you can tell from Love Beyond The Sea and podcasts on Casting Beyond The Sea, I am devoted to my Filipina wife. Many years ago, I thought it would be awesome to have a wife from the Philippines, I just really didn’t consider it possible. I work hard to impress upon her that she is my one and only. I am to devote myself to her good, to protect her and to provide for her. That’s what a man does.

Just because we got married in only 54 days, have a large age gap and are from different cultures, I don’t see how that has mattered much in our union. People the same age break up all the time and maybe they even knew each other for many years. Commitment means you’re responsible as the husband, as the man, to find a way to work things out. You don’t know what lies ahead but you are responsible to keep fanning the flames and develop a culture of safety for her. I can’t just leave her when times are tough and she can’t just leave me when times are tough. I am not to say something like “I am committed to you 99 percent” because then I am not committed at all. There can be no “outs”.

As for serving Jesus Christ, marriage is God’s idea after all, and since it is, I want to be included. The Bible explains the behavior God wants from us and I have made many videos about that. I prayed for decades to get married, and got a wife better than I could have imagined. The Bible says that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, and he certainly did when he partnered me up with my love beyond the sea.

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