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House panel recommends killing bill that would end recognition of common-law marriages

New Hampshire should continue to recognize common-law marriages for purposes of estate law and survivor benefits, a House panel recommended yesterday.

The House Judiciary Committee voted, 18-0, to recommend killing a bill introduced by Rep. David Bickford, a Republican from New Durham, that would repeal the state’s limited and posthumous recognition of such marriages.

The recommendation will go to the full House for a vote.

State law considers two people married if “cohabiting and acknowledging each other as husband and wife, and generally reputed to be such, for the period of three years, and until the decease of one of them.”

So, while a common-law marriage isn’t recognized by the state while both partners are alive, it can be considered a valid form of marriage when it comes to estate law and survivor benefits.

Bickford told the committee last week that when it comes to the benefits of marriage, “I think we need to draw a line in the sand. You’re either married or you’re not married.”

But critics said repealing the law could cause confusion and trouble for longtime couples, including refugees whose marriage papers may have been lost.

Nine states and the District of Columbia fully recognize common-law marriages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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