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. Not all states recognize this legal concept; but in those that do, the two people who wish to be acknowledged as a common law married couple must agree that they are married, live together, and present themselves as husband and wife.
For example, two people in a long-term relationship share a home and have acted like a married couple in all manners except for the marriage license and rings for a number of years. After having a child, they decide it's best to legally tie the knot in order to simplify their estate. But, contrary to popular misperception, no couple "automatically" becomes legally married after any given number of years if they meet the requirements of common law marriage -- the parties must actively petition the court. This is true in all states that recognize it.
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.
The following list contains a state-by-state look at common law marriages.
|GEORGIA||Yes, but only for marriages entered into before January 1, 1997.|
|IDAHO||Yes, but only for marriages entered into before January 1, 1996.|
|NEW HAMPSHIRE||Yes, but only for inheritance purposes.|
|OHIO||Yes, but only for marriages entered into before October 10, 1991.|
|OKLAHOMA||Yes, definitely for marriages entered into before November 11, 1998. Controversy over the law for any common law marriages after that date.|
|PENNSYLVANIA||Yes, but only for marriages entered into before January 1, 2005.|
|UTAH||Only "Judicial Recognition" of a common law marriage is accepted.|
Get Professional Legal Help with Your Common Law Marriage Questions
Legal recognition of a relationship as a marriage can be complicated, particularly when other events come into play such as divorce, child custody, or adoption. A lawyer can advise you about the laws and any documents you may need to prove or disprove a common law marriage. Get help today by finding a family law attorney near you.