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July 18, 2024
What Is a Common Law Marriage Exactly?

What Is a Common Law Marriage Exactly?

Jun 25, 2024

Did you know that most states do not recognize that common law marriage and legal marriage are not regulated by federal laws but by state laws? 

Couples who have been living together for a long time can think that they can obtain common law marriage but this is more complicated and can vary broadly by state.

To really understand what common law marriage is all about, you need to look into its details and see how it works in different situations. Plus, in places where common law marriage is not allowed, alternatives like domestic partnerships become real choices for couples who want formal support and recognition outside of traditional marriage. 

Here, we will look into the particulars of common-law marriage and find out what makes this type of partnership special.

Definition of Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage is a legal union where a couple lives together and presents themselves as married without a formal ceremony or marriage license. In this type of arrangement, the couple is considered married in the eyes of the law, even though they didn’t go through a traditional process. 

In Kansas, common law marriage is recognized by the state, including in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and the District of Columbia.

Requirements for Validity

To establish the validity of a common-law marriage, both partners must meet specific requirements set forth by the state laws in which they reside. These typically include the following key elements:

  • Both partners must possess the legal capacity to enter into marriage, which means they must be of legal age and mentally competent.
  • The partners must have the intention to be married and hold themselves out to others as a married couple. This can be shown through actions such as using the same last name, referring to each other as spouses, or filing joint tax returns.
  • Partners must cohabitate or live together for a certain amount of time. 

Bear in mind that each state has its own specific requirements for recognizing common-law marriages, so it’s important to understand the laws in your state to ensure the validity of your relationship.

Rights and Responsibilities

For a common-law marriage to work, both people involved need to know their legal rights and duties. 

In a common-law marriage, you may have the right to inherit from your partner if they pass away without a will. This can be significant in ensuring your financial security. It also means you may be responsible for their debts incurred during the relationship.

You may have the right to make medical choices for your partner if they’re unable to do so themselves in terms of health care decisions. On the flip side, you could also be responsible for their expenses.

Common-law spouses may have rights to spousal support or alimony if the relationship ends. It’s important to be aware of these responsibilities and to protect yourself and your partner in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

How to Establish a Common-Law Marriage

Establishing a common-law marriage involves meeting specific criteria to legally recognize your relationship without a formal ceremony or license.

To begin, both you and your partner must have the legal capacity to enter into a marriage. This means you must be of legal age and mentally competent.

Living together for a certain period is often a requirement, but the duration varies by state. Proving your intent to be married is necessary; this can be shown through joint bank accounts, sharing a last name, or referring to each other as spouses.

Presenting yourselves as a married couple to family, friends, and the community can strengthen your case. Keep in mind that simply living together isn’t sufficient to establish a common-law marriage; you must meet all the specific criteria set forth by your state.

Common Law Marriage Vs. Traditional Marriage

Common law marriage differs significantly from traditional marriage in terms of legal recognition and formalities. In a common law union, you and your partner can establish a marital relationship without obtaining a marriage license or having a formal ceremony. This type of union is recognized in some states as legally binding if certain conditions are met, such as presenting yourselves as a married couple and cohabitating for a specific period.

Traditional marriage involves obtaining a marriage license, having a ceremony, and meeting other legal requirements set by the state. They are universally recognized and provide couples with clear legal rights and responsibilities from the moment they say, ‘I do.’

While common law marriages offer flexibility and simplicity, traditional marriages provide couples with a formalized structure and legal certainty. It’s important to understand the distinctions between the two types of unions to make informed decisions about your relationship and legal rights.


A common law marriage is a type of marriage recognized in some states where couples are considered legally married without obtaining a license or having a formal ceremony.

It’s important to understand the requirements for validity and the rights and responsibilities that come with a common law marriage.

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