Common Law Marriage sometimes called informal marriage or marriage by habit and repute is historically a form of interpersonal status in which a man and a woman are not legally married.  Legally in this sense means that the marriage did not occur by having a religious or civil ceremony, nor did the couple obtain a marriage license.  It does not mean that the marriage is not recognized by governmental entities.

Common law marriages are established by the following:

  • Live together for a significant period of time (not defined in any state);
  • Hold themselves out as a married couple—typically this means using the same last name, referring to the other as “my husband” or “my wife”;
  • Filing a joint tax return;
  • Mutually intend to be married;
  • Be of the age to consent or have parental consent.

Common law marriage was the custom in the early days of United States history when couples might live in a situation where they could not readily solemnize their marriage.  For instance, when the west was being settled, judges and ministers often rode a circuit, and it could be months or years before a couple could have a formal marriage.

Today common law marriage can only be created in the states of Alabama, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia (if created before 1/1/97), Idaho (if created before 1/1/96), Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only), Ohio (if created before 10/10/91), Oklahoma, Pennsylvania (if created before 1/1/05), Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

All states recognize a common law marriage that was legally created under the laws of another state.  The IRS also recognizes common law marriage.  There is no common law divorce.  This means that a couple who has established a common law marriage must dissolve the marriage by being formally divorced.  Common law marriage is much easier to get into than it is to get out of.


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