If you live in the United States, you may be familiar with the term "common law marriage." A common law marriage is one in which a couple lives together for a period of time and considers themselves as "married," but without ever going through a formal ceremony or getting a marriage license. Many people believe that a couple that lives together for a set period is considered common-law married. However, this is an inaccurate belief. While common law marriages are recognized in several states, no states recognize a couple living in the same household for a specific number of years as common-law married.
Before we get into the specifics surrounding common-law marriage laws, let's identify which states acknowledge these relationships. As of 2018, eight states acknowledge common law marriages through final legislation. Those states are: Colorado, District of Columbia, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas, and Utah. The requirements to establish a common law marriage vary by state. In D.C., marriage is legally recognized without a ceremony or marriage license if both parties are legally allowed to marry, wish to be married, and if the community knows the couple as husband and wife.
In Texas, there are two ways that a couple can enter into a common law marriage. One way is for the couple to agree to marry, live with each other within the state, and represent to others that they are married. Couples may also file a Declaration of Informal Marriage with the County Clerk. While some states permit people to get married before they turn 18 with parental consent, some common law marriage states require that both parties be 18. Colorado and Kansas's common law marriage statutes state this requirement.
In some states, common law marriage is permitted only for specific purposes. For example, Iowa acknowledges common law marriage simply for the support of dependents. In New Hampshire, common law marriages are recognized just for probate purposes.
Several states previously recognized common law marriage. While these states no longer accept new common-law marriages, marriages that previously entered before abolishing common law marriage are recognized. Those states are: Alabama (2017), Florida (1968), Georgia (1997), Indiana (1958), Ohio (1991), Pennsylvania (2005), and South Carolina (2019).
Thirteen states have never allowed common law marriage. However, common-law marriages contracted from other states are recognized in these states. Those 13 states are:
|District of Columbia|
|Georgia||If created before 01-01-1997|
|New Hampshire||For inheritance purposes only|
|Ohio||If created before 10-10-1991|
|Oklahoma||If created before 11-01-1998. Oklahoma’s laws and court decisions may be in conflict about whether common law marriages formed after 11-01-1998 will be recognized|
|Pennsylvania||If created before 01-01-2005|