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The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently released its opinion in Frederick Roosevelt Dunning, Jr. & Janice Dunning Sandifer v. Lula Mayhew, in which it determined Roosevelt and Lula were married at common law. Although the Alabama legislature abolished common law marriage in Alabama effective January 1, 2017, any common law marriage that existed prior to that date is still valid. The Court of Appeals reiterated that a common law marriage requires proof by clear and convincing evidence of capacity to marry; a present mutual agreement to permanently enter into a marital relationship to the exclusion of all other relationships; public recognition of the relationship as a marriage; a public assumption of the marital duties; and cohabitation. The Court of Appeals further stated that while there was conflicting evidence presented at trial concerning the second two elements, the trial court is tasked with making credibility determinations and resolving conflicting evidence and that the appellate courts may not disturb the trial court’s findings in that regard as long as they are supported by substantial evidence.
My Two Cents:
The issue of common law marriage comes up frequently in workers’ compensation death benefits cases. Interestingly, as this case points out, a party must prove a common law marriage by clear and convincing evidence, whereas the standard to recover workers’ compensation benefits is generally a preponderance of the evidence. Nevertheless, an appellate court will not re-weigh the evidence on appeal, so the trial court’s findings of fact are generally final. The trial judge is in the unique position of being able to assess the credibility of the witnesses, and the appeals courts cannot substitute their own judgment in that regard.
About the Author
This article was written by Charley M. Drummond, Esq. of Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC. Fish Nelson & Holden is a law firm located in Birmingham, Alabama dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and related liability matters. Drummond and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields. If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 332-3414.