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Family forms can vary and may create legal confusion

Marriages entered into in Minnesota require meeting a certain set of criteria. The statute language under chapter 517 of the Domestic Relations code lays out the formula quite clearly.

  • Both parties have to be able to consent to enter into the union.
  • A proper license must be obtained.
  • The contract has to be witnessed by two individuals.
  • It must be "solemnized" by someone both parties know or believe is authorized to perform the procedure.

Over the years, the notion of what constitutes a legally contracted union has changed, however. This sometimes has created confusion. For example, until only recently, the formal concept of marriage was restricted to opposite-sex couples. Same-sex couples might have entered into a formal domestic partnership or even a civil union. Now, of course, same-sex marriage is legal. 

Adding to the perplexity is that some states recognize common law marriage. That's a condition under which a couple holds themselves out to the rest of the world as "married" without ever having gotten a license or going through any solemnizing procedure.

As we have already noted, Minnesota law doesn't recognize common law marriage. However, section 517.20 of state code says the state does recognize such unions if they were legally entered into under the laws of another state.

And just to add one more interesting wrinkle to the fabric, Minneapolis is one of only a few cities in the state that has an ordinance on the books that requires employers to extend the same benefits to domestic partners as are available to married couples.

In the midst of social change, legal questions are created. What that can mean in the context of family law issues is that answers may be unclear. And it is under these conditions that the advice remains that it is always best to consult with an experienced attorney.

2015 Minnesota Statutes, "Civil Marriage Contract," "Application," accessed Oct. 29, 2015
FindLaw, "Domestic Partnerships," accessed Oct. 29, 2015

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