Common-law marriage happens when specific requirements are met. Once these requirements are met, two people become married according to the state without filing for a marriage certificate or a formal ceremony. They also get to enjoy all the benefits of being married, such as tax breaks. Although common-law marriage has been around for a long time, the process has many popular misconceptions. One of the most popular is that you are common-law married if you live with your partner for seven years. This is not the case. There is no set timeframe in which you have to live with another person to be considered married. Instead, you must fulfill your state’s requirements to qualify for common-law marriage.
If you wish to understand your state’s requirements concerning common-law marriage, discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney who understands the complications of laws in your state.
Only a few states have common-law marriage as an option. If you don’t live in a state with common-law marriage, two people who want to be married must go through the process of a state-sanctioned marriage regardless of how long they have lived together.
States With Common-Law Marriage
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
If you and your partner live in one of these states, then it may be possible to get common-law married; however, there are many more requirements that one must fill for states to consider you married. The requirements vary from state to state.
Each state has its own requirements and specifications. For instance, New Hampshire has relatively lax rulings requiring that a couple live together for at least three years and be known as husband and wife to be considered legally married. Other states have very loose rules, such as Montana, which follows general requirements including the couple’s behavior and how their community identifies them.
Almost all states require the minimum of the following to be classified as informally married:
- The couple must live with each other (amount of time varies by state).
- The couple must have no legal blocks to marriage, and each must have the mental capacity to marry.
- They each must be 18 or older (varies by state).
- They must be of sound mind.
- They cannot be married to other people.
- They must mean to marry each other.
- The couple presents itself to friends and family as being married.
Other requirements might include using the same surname, calling each other “wife,” “husband,” or “spouse,” or having joint credit cards and bank accounts.
Only 15 states and Washington, DC, recognize common-law marriage. If you were informally married in Texas, Rhode Island and Oklahoma might recognize your marriage as official but not Missouri. Some states still recognize a common-law marriage if it was entered into before a certain year.
States That Previously Allowed Common-Law Marriage:
- Pennsylvania: No common-law marriage after Jan. 1, 2005.
- Ohio: No common-law marriage on or after Oct. 10, 1991.
- Indiana: No common-law marriage if entered into after Jan. 1, 1958.
- Georgia: No common-law marriage after Jan. 1, 1997, but the state recognizes common-law marriages entered into before that date.
- Florida: No common-law marriage entered into after Jan. 1, 1968.
- Alabama: No common-law marriage after Jan. 1, 2017, but the state recognizes common-law marriages entered into before that date.
If you are moving out of a state after a common-law marriage and want to remain that way, you might want to check your new state’s laws to see if it recognizes common-law marriages.
When Will Being Common-Law Married Matter?
In most scenarios, being common-law married offers the same benefits and tax breaks as if you were married—it’s just a much simpler process than traditional marriage. However, common-law marriage is of extreme importance in court cases. If there is a separation or custody case, the court will see the couple as traditionally married—there is no common-law divorce.
In that case, the court will see it as a formal divorce between the couple, meaning separation of assets and custody negotiations. In some states, it may be possible to be married through common law without ever knowing it. Most of the states now require both parties to consent and be notarized to be informally married, but it can come as a surprise to someone not expecting it. If you qualify for common-law marriage in a state that doesn’t require notarization or signed consent, you could be in for a rude awakening if you don’t know the rules. Proof of common-law marriage is then needed if one or the other attempts to file their separation as a divorce.
Proof of common-law marriage is usually in the form of letters, postcards, wedding bands, and photos, anything that could be construed as being married by your community and family members. For instance, a letter from your partner’s mother addressed to her daughter/son-in-law or a photo in which a wedding band is visible can be used as proof to establish common-law marriage in court.
Common-Law or Traditional Marriage—What Is the Difference?
There is little to no difference between informal and traditional marriages as far as benefits are concerned. Taxes, inheritors, beneficiaries, insurances, and all applicable benefits of being married apply to common and traditional marriages. The main differences between the two processes are the time requirements and money needed. If you go the traditional route, there are no barriers as far as time outside of processing and fees. You and your partner could be legally classified as married in a little as 24 to 72 hours for less than $100 if you decided to skip the ceremony. There’s no waiting years to become designated as common law. You can become legally married as soon as possible.
Common-law marriage has many other requirements that could take months, if not years, to fulfill. If you were blindsided by common-law marriage or need help defending your divorce in court, contact our office. Stange Law Firm has qualified lawyers ready to help you with your case.