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 spouses, 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

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 spouses; 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 spousal 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.
  • Any documents showing that one spouse has assumed the surname of their common law spouse.
  • 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.

Next Steps

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