Is a Common Law Marriage Recognized?


Many couples believe they are legally married if they live together for years without formal ceremonies or marriage licenses; unfortunately, this may not always be the case.

Couples must fulfill certain criteria to qualify as common law married in California; however, registered domestic partnerships offer many of the same advantages.

Legal Requirements for a Common Law Marriage

Under California law, to legally marry one another requires meeting various requirements. These include having legal capacity, living together as husband and wife and holding themselves out as husband and wife in public. Documents may be needed such as joint bank accounts, car titles or home mortgage agreements. Both partners must also possess intent to marry each other for at least some period of time as well as sharing a last name that refers to themselves as husband and wife.

Historically, many states allowed common law marriages – meaning couples living together and declaring themselves to friends, family and the public as married could consider themselves legally married even without going through a formal ceremony or filing the necessary documentation with the state.

Today, most states do not recognize common law marriages. However, certain states still do; these include Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma South Carolina and Texas. In these states, marriages that fulfill all requirements of common law marriage are valid regardless of where or when they were entered into.

Although some states mandate minimum living arrangements between couples before applying to be married, California does not. Instead, courts consider other factors, including intent to marry and behavior as married couple (for instance whether they present themselves to others as such).

So if two individuals tied the knot in Texas and then moved to California, their informal marriage would still be recognized there. While informal unions are not regulated by states and do not offer all the same advantages of traditional weddings or civil unions, courts could award support, property division and social security/healthcare benefits in much the same manner that would apply if married couple.

Rights and Responsibilities of a Common Law Spouse

States that recognize common law marriages allow couples who consider themselves married and exhibit typical characteristics of married life – living together, sharing finances and financial accounts, having children together – the same rights and protections available when legally married couples separate or one spouse dies; when one of the couple separates or passes away they may even qualify for benefits like spousal support payments or protections such as the ability to file for spousal support whereas couples that never had an officiated ceremony or registered their relationship cannot be considered legally married.

Common belief holds that anyone living together for an extended period automatically marries each other legally and assumes all its responsibilities and rights as legally married individuals. Unfortunately, this is usually not true. According to law, for couples to qualify as common law marriages they must fulfill several criteria including living together as husband and wife in public and private spaces as well as holding themselves out as married in their social circle of friends and acquaintances.

When couples divorce or one partner dies, their assets are typically distributed according to state law in which they lived. This may include property rights, financial support (commonly referred to as “palimony”) and parenting responsibilities – although courts may take into account factors like length of relationship time together, prenuptial agreements and other factors in order to decide how assets should be divided up.

Many couples opt to forgo traditional wedding ceremonies and instead live out their relationship without following tradition, for various reasons ranging from not believing in marriage to simply enjoying being unmarried. Whatever their motivation may be, it is essential that those making such decisions understand any possible ramifications this could have on their legal rights should a separation or death occur.

Example: If you and your partner have lived together for 10 or more years and are considered a common law marriage in another state, pursuant to the federal constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, California courts are obliged to recognize the marriage under “full faith and credit”. This can help establish any shared assets or paternity issues related to children born from that union.

Changing the Law to Recognize Common Law Spouses

Common law marriage has fallen out of fashion in most states, yet in a handful it still exists. Under these conditions, couples may be considered married if they cohabitate for an agreed upon amount of time and treat themselves like married people within their community and circle of friends. They must also comply with other general requirements for marriage such as having signed an agreement mutually to marry each other as evidenced by documentation.

Common law marriage has many advantages, including filing taxes jointly and receiving certain government benefits together as well as sharing medical decisions – this may be particularly valuable if there are children involved in their relationship. Furthermore, it allows couples to divide assets and debts more equitably during divorce proceedings.

Although couples who meet these stipulations meet legally married requirements, this does not make their union legal and this can create problems when relationships break apart. Separating assets is more challenging and some may even lose out on being awarded spousal support or custody rights.

Courts will assess each situation thoroughly when determining a couple’s marital status, taking into account a range of factors like length of relationship, whether both parties agreed that their union was legally binding and how their behavior affected community interactions and friendship networks. Determining when exactly a common law marriage has formed can be tricky but couples living together for over ten years may form one without realising it.

Common law marriage does not require formal ceremonies or state paperwork to form, yet does not stop couples from acting like married people if they live together for extended periods, share last names and addresses and have children together. If a couple wants their status as married officially recognized they should file for divorce.

Other Alternatives

Many individuals assume that simply by living together for a certain period, their relationship will automatically be recognized by the state as a common law marriage. Unfortunately, this is not always true: in California to become legally married you must conduct an official ceremony and file for a marriage license.

Although the federal government does not recognize common law marriages, some states do. Under their regulations, couples are considered married if they present themselves to the public as husband and wife, share household expenses equally, share one last name and reside together for at least some period of time.

California recently adopted a law allowing heterosexual couples to register as domestic partners without legally marrying each other, though they do receive some of the benefits that come with being married, such as tax deductions and inheritance rights.

Domestic partnerships are treated similarly to marriage when filing state taxes, making domestic partnership a suitable way to avoid what is known as the “marriage penalty,” an increased federal tax rate that occurs when two married people share income.

No matter if you opt for a common law marriage or domestic partnership, consulting a matrimonial attorney before proceeding is vitally important. A family law attorney can help you to choose which option will work best for both yourself and your partner and can guide the filing process of divorce or domestic partnership accordingly.

If you are in a common law marriage and wish to ensure that your rights are protected in the event of divorce, contact Bohm Wildish & Matsen immediately and set up a consultation appointment with one of their San Diego family lawyers. Our team is available 24/7 to answer any questions that arise in regards to your specific circumstances as well as help facilitate an efficient legal process – child custody arrangements and property division can also be handled efficiently through them.