The concept of common law marriage has been recognized for many generations in the United States, currently in nine states and the District of Columbia. More than half of the states stopped recognizing common law marriage, as early as 1646 (Massachusetts) and as recently as 2016 (Alabama). 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 to establish 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.
Establishing a Common Law Marriage: Documents
When you establish a common law marriage, you won't need to go through the marriage process but you will have to prove you're union is valid. This varies by state, but generally 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.
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 a common law marriage if you used to live in a common law state and can offer written documentation.
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.