Tennessee doesn’t recognize what other states consider to be “common law marriages.” Some states allow common law marriages to be formed when two individuals in a relationship cohabitate for a set period of time. This would then create a marital union to allow for support, alimony, and surviving spouse benefits upon death. A recent case has highlighted the issues that arise when individuals who were in such a recognized relationship in another state move to Tennessee.

In the case of Margaret Winebrenner v. Johnnie Godwin, et al., the following transpired: a couple met and resided together for several years in California, but then later moved to Tennessee where they resided for several additional years until the death of one of the cohabitants. Under California law, had the cohabitants been residing in California the surviving cohabitant would have been entitled to support in the form of “palimony” that is recognized in the state of California.

The surviving cohabitant therefore filed an action in Tennessee against the decedent’s surviving children and the trustee of a trust that had been set up by the decedent, in order to receive such support. The trial court ruled that California law did not apply, and under Tennessee law the surviving cohabitant was not entitled to any support. The case was affirmed on appeal.

Therefore, if you have moved to Tennessee from another state, be aware that the domestic relations laws of your former state will not apply under the choice of law rules in Tennessee. If you need assistance setting up a will or trust, or understanding the distribution of property upon death, give the attorneys at Saenz & Maniatis, PLLC a call at (615) 366-1211.