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Common Law Marriage

A common law marriage is one in which a heterosexual couple fulfills the requirements of a legal marriage without a license or ceremony. Common law is not as common as popular belief would have it, however. In order to have a common law marriage, a couple need more than just live together for a specified period of time . They must also identify themselves as a married couple (for example, by using the same last name, referring to one another as husband and wife, or filing a joint tax return) and intend to be married.

Once a common law marriage is established between two people, the state officially recognizes the union and the couple receives the same legal treatment as formally married couples. This means a couple wishing to end their common law marriage must obtain a legal divorce .

States Recognizing Common Law Marriage

Not all states recognize common law marriages. The following states permit common law marriages:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah

The following states recognize common law marriages established before specific dates :

  • Georgia (before January 1, 1997)
  • Idaho (before January 1, 1996)
  • New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
  • Ohio (before October 10, 1991)
  • Pennsylvania (before January 1, 2005)

Because laws governing marriage and divorce vary from state-to-state, a common law marriage established in one state may not receive the same legal recognition in another.

For instance, in a state that recognizes common law marriage, a spouse may be entitled to share in the marital estate and even to spousal support. This may not hold true, however, if the couple relocates to a state that does not regard common law marriage as valid.

If you have a common law marriage and are considering divorce, it is best to seek the advice of a qualified divorce attorney who can help you understand your legal rights. Contact us for a FREE consultation with a divorce attorney experienced in common law marriages.

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