Common Law Marriage definition

A common law marriage is a union that is legally recognized without a marriage license being purchased or an official ceremony taking place.

It allows couples who have lived together for a long amount of time to enjoy the legal benefits of marriage, even if they haven’t formally tied the knot.

However, while common law marriage is legally recognized in many states, it has also been abolished in a lot of other jurisdictions.

Find out some of the most important features of a common law marriage below.

How Can You Prove You Have a Common Law Marriage

In states where a common law marriage is recognized, there are a few ways that couples will have to prove their relationship fits the correct legal definition.

Common law marriage is recognized by a few specific criteria:

  1. You must have lived together for a set period of time (state dependent).
  2. You must have the capacity to marry by being over 18, unmarried, and mentally competent.
  3. You must both intend to be married. This can be proven with a birth certificate of any children you’ve had as a couple.
  4. You must behave as a married couple with friends and relatives. For instance, by holding joint accounts, sharing the same last name and publicly referring to each other as husband and wife.

Where is Common Law Marriage Recognized?

Common law marriage is recognized or at least partially recognized in many states. In these locations, it is possible to receive the legal benefits of being married without an official marriage record.

However, in many other states these laws are being gradually phased out. It’s therefore important to check first if your local jurisdiction allows a common law marriage before moving forward.

States that Recognize Common Law Marriage

There are 9 states where couples can obtain a common law marriage. In these locations, it is possible to have your long term relationship recognized as long as you meet the criteria established by its local statutes.

You can still get a common law marriage in:

States that Only Partially Recognize Common Law Marriage

Additionally, there are other states where common law marriage still exists but is only partially recognized. In most of these areas, it is only possible to get this legal status if your relationship existed before common law marriage was outlawed.

The states that partially recognize common law marriage include:

  • Georgia (for relationships existing before January 1st 1997)
  • Idaho (for relationships existing before January 1st 1996)
  • New Hampshire (for inheritance only)
  • Oklahoma (for relationships existing before November 1st 1998)
  • Ohio (for relationships existing before October 10th 1991)
  • Pennsylvania (for relationships existing before January 1st 2005)

How Can You End Common Law Marriage?

If you have a legally recognized common law marriage and you decide to end your relationship before the death of your partner, it is necessary to go through divorce proceedings. This is because the law treats established common law marriages the same as conventional unions, including the need to dissolve it through the courts.