Indiana’s wrongful death law is very specific as to who can recover compensation. The surviving spouse and minor children get the highest priority, other dependent relatives can recover damages only if there is no spouse or minor child. If you had a formal marriage, your status as the spouse is clear. But, if you were in a common-law marriage, you do have some legal hurdles to contend with and you may not qualify as a spouse.
Understanding Common-Law Marriage
If you had a valid common-law marriage, and you can prove it, you will be recognized as the surviving spouse in Indiana. The problem here is two-fold.
First, most people who think they have a common-law marriage really don’t. Common-law marriage has not been allowed in Indiana since January 1, 1958. It doesn’t matter how long you live together. You simply cannot form a legally binding common-law marriage in Indiana. Indiana will recognize a common-law marriage that was legally formed in one of the few states that allow it.
Second, if you really do have a legally valid common-law marriage, you’ll have to prove it. That can be very difficult due to the informal nature of common-law marriages. If there are relatives of your deceased spouse who stand to gain by disqualifying you, they may try to disprove your marriage.
If there are no minor children or other dependents, the defendant will want to disqualify you because it can significantly reduce the amount of damages they must pay. When the deceased was an unmarried person with no minor children or other dependent relatives, a nondependent parent or adult child can receive compensation for loss of love and companionship, but no more than $300,000.
To learn more about Indiana wrongful death claims, please contact one of the experienced Indiana wrongful death attorneys listed in this directory.