A prisoner in a Mississippi prison filed a lawsuit against a woman who he claims is not his father’s wife, even though she bears his father’s last name and they lived together for 60 years.
Thomas Ellis, currently serving a 45-year prison sentence, filed a lawsuit against Maria Ellis, saying that she was never legally married to his father and, therefore, has no right to collect his Social Security benefits now that he has passed. Whether or not they were legally married (which family members say they were), would 60 years of co-habitation make them common law husband and wife in Mississippi?
The Clarion-Ledger’s recent article asks, “Is common-law marriage legal in Mississippi?” According to the article, Maria Ellis was listed in Cleveland “Doc” Ellis’ obituary in 2015 as his wife of 60 years. A family member also said the couple was legally married in the 1990s and that Thomas Ellis was probably in jail and didn’t know the couple got married.
Ellis filed the handwritten lawsuit himself. He claims that his father’s first and only wife was Carrie Ellis, who died in 1985. His father separated in 1954 from Carrie Ellis, but they never divorced.
Doc Ellis and Maria Ellis lived together from 1955 until his death in 2015 at the age of 88. The big question is whether the couple’s relationship was under the purview of the abolished common-law marriage law in Mississippi or whether they were they legally married.
Mississippi abolished its common- law marriage statute in 1956 and it hasn't been recognized in the state for some time. An unmarried person living with another, now isn’t entitled to the other person’s benefits, property, or any assets.
Common-law marriage is thought to result when two people live together without going through the official process of obtaining a marriage license. They are married by a minister or another person authorized to conduct a marriage.
One retired Chancery Judge contends that if a common law marriage was established before common-law marriage was abolished as a legal marriage contract, it would be recognized as legal at any point thereafter.
However, the judge said the issue is whether a common-law marriage was established in the case, before it was no longer legal.
Despite the fact that a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit a month ago, it was dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning that there was likely a procedural error, and the lawsuit could potentially be filed again.
Reference: The (Jackson MS) Clarion-Ledger (September 27, 2017) “Is common-law marriage legal in Mississippi?”