Checklist: Documents That Establish A Common Law Marriage
The concept of common law marriage has been recognized for many years in the United States. Essentially, in a common law marriage two parties create a valid marital relationship without the benefit of a legal marriage ceremony performed according to the statutory requirements of that particular state.
The foundation for a common law marriage is mutual consent or agreement of the parties to be husband and wife, and thereafter a mutual and open assumption of a marital relationship.
What if My State Doesn't Recognize Common Law Marriages?
Even if you currently live in a state that doesn't specifically recognize common law marriages, you may be able to establish that one exists or existed if you used to live in a common law state and can offer written documentation.
Same-Sex Marriage and Common Law
Currently, only Iowa, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia recognize common law same-sex marriages. Most other common law states make the law gender-specific, so only a man and a woman can enter into a common law marriage.
Examples of documents that can be used to establish the existence of a common law marriage are listed below.
- A personal affidavit stating when and where you and your common law spouse mutually agreed to become husband and wife; whether you were ever married, ceremonially or otherwise, to anyone else, and the details surrounding the end of any previous marriages (how they were ended, where, and when); and any other details that will help to establish the existence of a husband and wife relationship.
- Affidavits from other persons who know you and are familiar with your relationship, setting forth particulars such as the length of time you lived together; your address(es); whether there was any public announcement of your marriage; and whether your friends, neighbors, and relatives regard you as married.
- Deeds showing title to property held jointly by both parties to the common law marriage.
- Bank statements and checks showing joint ownership of the accounts.
- Insurance policies naming the other party as beneficiary.
- Birth certificates naming you and your common law spouse as parents of your child(ren).
- Employment records listing your common law spouse as an immediate family member.
- School records listing the names of both common law spouses as parents
- Credit card accounts in the names of both common law spouses
- Loan documents, mortgages, and promissory notes evidencing joint financial obligations of the parties.
- Mail addressed to you and your common law spouse as "Mr. and Mrs."
- Any documents showing that the wife has assumed the surname of her common law husband.
- Church records indicating familial status, including membership information, baptismal certificates of the parties' child(ren), Sunday School registration forms, etc.
Have a Question About Marriage Laws in Your State? Talk to an Attorney
Common law marriage is a unique legal concept and if you and a partner meet the requirements in your state, it could have a significant impact on the disposition of your property. Reach out to a family law attorney near you to find out about the marriage laws in your state and discuss your specific situation.