Informal or Common Law Marriages



Common law viewed marriage as a contract rather than a sacrament as Canon Law viewed it.


There were three types of Common law marriage.

The first and perhaps the simplest was spousals de praesenti (present words)
In this form of marriage the couple simply exchanged vows in front of witnesses and sometimes exchanged a token as well.

There were seldom any records of these marriages which could take place anywhere.


The second similar to the first, but the couple agreed to begin married life at a later date. This was spousals de futuro (future words).

The marriage started when the couple co-habited, as with the first type records were seldom kept.


The third type involved the clergy and were known as irregular marriages but were recognized by both the Church and State.

Priests would marry the couple in chapels with no banns being announced prior to the marriage, the couple would exchange vows which made the marriage a legal contract.


It was normally assumed that as co-habiting without being married was a sin (It breached Canon Law) couples living together must have undergone one of the above types of marriage otherwise their children would be bastards. A bastard was considered a child of no one.


 Lord Hardwicke’s Act of 1753 changed this state of affairs and required that all marriages had to be in church after banns or licence.



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First published in 2005.

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