Marriage is formal union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. After marriage, it is important to note that the responsibilities and rights of husband and wife towards each other in matters relating to property and support, is regulated by the laws of the state in which they live in.

While a couple might be able to amend some of the marriage policies setup by the state they live in, their marriage is only void in the situation where a court grants a divorce or nullifies the union.

A lot of people believe that when you have been living with a person for a period of time, you are automatically married to them in what is known as common law marriage. They also believe that they have the same rights as couples formally married under the law. It is important to note that certain unions are null in some states but are valid in others. Therefore, it is important to know the states where common law marriage is recognized and vice versa.

What Is Common Law

To fully grasp the concept of Common Law marriage, we have to first understand what common law is. The Common Law definition, widely regarded to as case law or judicial precedent, is the body of law derived from judicial precedents rather than written laws. It is a body of unwritten laws that depends on records of similar court cases and past decisions of courts to decide cases, because there are no legal codes governing the case.

In cases where a similar court case has been solved, the court will evaluate the precedential decisions and apply It to the case at hand.  This system of law depends on a judges’ decision and on custom rather than on established laws. The marriage unions recognized by the judicial precedents of the common law is known as Common Law marriage.

What Is Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage, also known as informal marriage, is one where a couple who have been living together for a long period of time are recognized by the community as married even though the union has not been sealed legally and they do not posses a marriage license. This form of marriage is only considered valid by both partners and the only proof of wedlock is the word of their friends and relations.

However, common law marriage is not as pronounced as a lot of people believe it is. Simply living together does not validate a common law marriage and there are strict requirements to prove the existence of a common law marriage.

Requirements for a Common Law Marriage

The requirements for a Common Law marriage is different from state to state and they depend on the jurisdiction of the state where you live in. There are four important requirements to ascertain the presence of a common law marriage and cohabitation is one of them, but it’s not enough. The four requirements to show a common law marriage are:

  • Cohabitation: Couples must live with each other although the period of time differs from place to place. In a lot of states, the time frame is not usually well defined, but some states do specify a certain number of years.
  • Proof of Marriage: Although common law married couples may not have a marriage certificate, they must present themselves to others as married couples.  A few ways to show this include: sharing the same last name, using joint credit cards, having joint bank accounts, and regarding each other as husband and wife in public.
  • Marriage Intention: Both parties must have the intention to get married under the law in the near future.

Lastly, both parties must have the capacity to get married as specified by the law. Some of the legal requirements for marriage include: both parties must be at least 18 years old (varies), the man and the woman must be of sound mind, and they must not be married to another person.

States that Recognize Common Law Marriage

It is necessary that a couple identify which states recognize common law marriage, as it will help them know their rights and responsibilities going forward. It is important to note that non Common Law marriage states will still recognize a properly formed common law union that was established in a state that provides for them.

In the situation where a couple married under Common Law relocates to another state that does not recognize common law and one of the partner dies in this state, it is important to also note that the laws of common law will apply during the sharing of properties.

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