State Laws: 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. 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 a married couple.

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.

The following list contains a state-by-state look at common law marriages.

State

Allowed?

ALABAMA

Yes

ALASKA

No

ARIZONA No
ARKANSAS

No

CALIFORNIA No
COLORADO

Yes

CONNECTICUT No
DELAWARE No
FLORIDA No
GEORGIA Yes, but only for marriages entered into before January 1, 1997.
HAWAII No
IDAHO Yes, but only for marriages entered into before January 1, 1996.
ILLINOIS No
INDIANA No
IOWA Yes
KANSAS Yes
KENTUCKY No
LOUISIANA No
MAINE No
MARYLAND No
MASSACHUSETTS No
MICHIGAN No
MINNESOTA No
MISSISSIPPI No
MONTANA Yes
NEBRASKA No
NEVADA No
NEW HAMPSHIRE Yes, but only for inheritance purposes.
NEW JERSEY No
NEW MEXICO No
NEW YORK No
NORTH CAROLINA No
NORTH DAKOTA No
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.
OREGON No
PENNSYLVANIA Yes, but only for marriages entered into before January 1, 2005.
RHODE ISLAND Yes
SOUTH CAROLINA Yes
TENNESSEE No
TEXAS Yes
UTAH Only "Judicial Recognition" of a common law marriage is accepted.
VERMONT No
VIRGINIA No
WASHINGTON No
WEST VIRGINIA No
WISCONSIN No
WYOMING No

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.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution