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Am I In A Common Law Marriage?

By on 2019-04-23 10:48:59, 0 Comments

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As more and more millennials opt out of marriage, they aren’t exactly choosing the single life either. While shacking up before marriage was once considered taboo, now it’s common place for people to be living together for years without ever getting married.

There are many reasons one would not want to get married. With divorce rates among boomers hovering around the 50% range, it seems likely the children of the divorce generation would not be keen on getting married themselves. Still in several states, you can be “married” without ever taking the plunge.

Marriage offers certain legal protections for couples, but for those living together who haven’t officially tied the knot, there still may be some legal protections available through something known as a common law marriage.

What Is a Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is a legal concept where couples are living together for a certain number of years and act as though they are married, but haven’t made it official in any sort of way.  

Common law marriage dates back well into the 1800’s when people and towns were so small, judges and other officials were not always available to perform a marriage.

Not All States Recognize Common Law Marriage

Only about ten states have common law marriage laws on the books. Five other states will recognize a common law marriage as legal if people fulfilled the requirements before they were banned.

It’s Not Just “Shacking Up” Together

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While many people may think that a common law marriage is simply when two people live together for a really long time, it’s actually much more involved than that. In most states where common law marriage exists, couples must be living together for a set number of years, but they must meet additional requirements as well to be in a common law marriage.

Rules For Common Law Marriage:

– You must be living together for a certain number of years (usually between 7-10)

Living with your partner isn’t easy. If you can make it over seven years, you’ve already lasted longer than some marriages and good for you! But, there are still more steps you need to take.

– You must meet the standard requirements for marriage itself

  1. Both parties must be over 18-years-old
  2. They both need to be of sound mind
  3. Neither of them can be married to someone else

This is pretty standard in common law states. Even though in many states minors can be married with parental permission, you must be 18 and over for this type of marriage.

– You must intend to be married

This may seem like an oxymoron, but in order to be considered for a common law marriage, you must intend to get married… eventually.

– You both act like a married couple

No, this doesn’t mean you bicker all the time. Basically, what is considered “acting married” is:

  1. Taking the same last name
  2. Referring to each other in public as “husband,” “wife,” or “spouse.”
  3. Holding joint bank accounts / credit cards
  4. Filing for Joint Taxes

How Is A Common Law Marriage Different From A Regular One?

Once established, a common law marriage is just as valid and binding as a formalized marriage. It’s just that the couple never formalized their union in an official way.

Do I Have To Register As A Common Law Marriage?

When you establish a common law marriage, you won’t need to go through the marriage process. However, you will have to prove you union is valid. This varies by state, but generally, it involves documents that establish a long-term domestic partnership. Establishing a common law marriage in Texas, for example, requires proof that you’ve agreed to be married and have lived together in Texas as a married couple.

Examples of documents that can be used to establish the existence of a common law marriage are listed below.

  • A signed affidavit stating when and where you and your common law spouse mutually agreed to become spouses. Whether you were ever married, ceremonially or otherwise, to anyone else, and how and when those marriages ended. Also, any other details that will help to establish the requirements of a common law marriage are met.
  • Affidavits from other people who know you to be living as a married couple. That you reside together and that friends and family consider you both a married couple.
  • Documents showing any property held jointly by both parties.
  • Bank statements and checks showing joint ownership of the accounts.
  • Insurance policies naming the other party as beneficiary.
  • Birth certificates naming both partners as parents of their child.
  • Employment records listing their partner as an immediate family member.
  • School records listing the names of both partners as parents.
  • Credit card accounts in the names of both partners.
  • Loan documents, mortgages, and other evidence of shared financial responsibilities.
  • Mail addressed to both partners showing the same address.
  • Any documents showing that partner has assumed the surname of the other.

What Are The Benefits of A Common Law Marriage?

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If you are sharing your life with someone and fit all of the requirements of a common law marriage, you are entitled to all of the same benefits of a regular marriage. This includes inheritance laws, insurance and survivor benefits, and just about any other rights a married couple has.

Can We Move To A State Where Our Marriage Is Not Recognized?

Most states will recognize your union, however, you will probably need to provide documentation that you met the requirements before moving.

Is There Such A Thing As Common Law Divorce?

This is where things get tricky. While there is no such thing as a common law divorce, if you are in a legally-recognized informal marriage and wish to end the relationship, you must obtain a regular divorce just like any other regularly married couple.

If you were married by common law and move to a state that doesn’t recognize them, you’ll still have to obtain a legal divorce in that state. This is because of the fact that all states recognize marriages from other states. When you move to another state, you’re still married, and must obtain a legal divorce if you choose to end the marriage.

I Don’t Live In a Common Law Marriage State. How Do I Protect My Partnership?

If you don’t want to get married to your significant other, but want certain benefits like health insurance, inheritance, or other legal protections, you may just want to suck it up and get the piece of paper. While there are some financial and tax drawbacks to being married, you can be better protected financially in case of a breakup and be eligible for survivor benefits for you and your children if your partner dies.


Marriage is a big step and a commitment. That is why a common law marriage takes about ten years to establish. It is something you and your partner need to discuss.

If you just started dating someone and want to know if they are marriage material (commonly or formally), check out and find out everything you need to know.

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