What To Know About Common Law Marriages

Many people believe that two people living together for a certain length of time are automatically involved in a common law marriage. In fact, cohabitation is just one of several requirements that are used to determine the legality of a common law marriage. Read on to learn the full story about common law marriages.

Common Law Marriage Guidelines

Not every state recognizes common law marriage, and even in those that do you must meet the requirements. While the most important requirement is cohabitation, there are no guidelines about length of cohabitation. Other requirements, which can vary by state, are:

If you are unable to fill the requirements to be legally married in your state, you cannot be common law married either. In short, you must not be:

~ Under minimum legal age.

~ Married to someone else already.

~ Be incapacitated or not of a sound mind.

Additionally, both parties must be of the same mind and:

1. Have the intention and forethought to live as a married couple.

2. "Hold themselves out" to be a married couple. This means that both people consistently represent themselves to family, friends, the community, and their place of worship as married.

Common Law Dissolution

Couples who hold themselves to be in a common law marriage cannot simply move out when they decide to part ways. If you have true common law marriage, and you live in a state that recognizes that form of marriage, you must follow the same legal procedures to divorce that is required of traditionally married couples. There is actually no such thing as a common law divorce.

Issues can arise when only one party in the common law marriage alleges the existence of the marriage. While this issue can arise due to misunderstandings, often one party doesn't want to go through the trouble and expense of divorcing. Issues with debt and property division and the need for alimony (spousal support) can sometimes be another factor for one party desiring a quick ending to relationship without the need for a legally-binding divorce decree.

If the issue of common law marriage has to be decided by a family court judge, he will ascertain the answers to the following questions:

  • How long did the couple lived together?
  • Did they share a common last name?
  • Did they raise children together?
  • Did they own property together?
  • Did they file joint tax returns?

It should be noted that the question of common law marriage is irrelevant to the child support issue, since there is no need to be legally married for child support orders to passed down in family court.

If you are ending a relationship and need more information about common law marriages in your state, contact a divorce attorney (like those at LaCroix & Hand PC) to learn about your rights.