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What Is Common Law Marriage?

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Couple Walking Into an Apartment Together Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images
Question: What Is Common Law Marriage?
Answer:

Common Law Marriage is an alternative to traditional marriage. Instead of obtaining a marriage license, a man and woman who live together and “intend to be married” can become common law spouses without a license or a wedding.

What states still allow common law marriage?

Presently only about 15 states and the District of Columbia allow common law marriages. The states that allow common law marriages are:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia (prior to 1/1/97)
  • Idaho (prior to 1/1/96)
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
  • Ohio (prior to 10/10/91)
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah

How does your marriage become common law?

A man and woman who live together and “intend to be married” can become common law spouses. Intent to be married can be shown by the couple simply by acting like they were married.

Such acts include:

  • Filing joint tax returns.
  • Using words like "husband" and "wife" when referring to your partner.
  • Using the same last name.
  • Wearing wedding rings.

What happens if common law married people move to a state that does not allow common law marriage?

All marriages, common law or civil, are recognized by every state. If you are common law married and you move to a state that does not allow such marriages, you are still married in the new state because your marriage was valid in the state where it occurred.

How do I obtain a divorce from a common law marriage?

To obtain a divorce from a common law marriage you must go through the exact same procedure as traditionally married couples. All the rights and obligations of common law married people are identical to those who are traditionally married; likewise the dissolution of the marriage is the same as well.

Do I need an attorney to obtain a common law marriage or divorce?

Often times it is unclear if you are common law married and exactly what benefits and responsibilities common law marriage entails. An attorney can help you understand common law marriage as it applies to your situation. If you need to dissolve a common law marriage, a family attorney can guide you through the process and help you file the necessary paperwork.

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