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How Common Law Marriage States Work

Common law marriage is a type of legal recognition of two people living together. In states that recognize common law marriage, it is recognized even if a couple does not have a marriage license or has taken any other steps to formulate a formal union if the two cohabitated for a long period of time. In short, if two people live together and intend to be married, they can become common law spouses without actually having a license to do so.

Common Law States

There are 15 states that recognize common law marriage. The District of Columbia is also a common law area. The states that recognize common law marriage include the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Montana
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Georgia (only prior to 1997)
  • Idaho (only prior to 1996)
  • Ohio (only prior to 1991)

In some states, there are restrictions. For example, in New Hampshire, common law marriage only applies in situations of inheritance. In three states, it only applies to previous marriages.

It is important to understand what the consequences of this type of marriage mean and what limitations are present. In common law marriage states, the laws governing assets and rights differ significantly than in traditional marriage states. For example, in these states, individuals who are living together as married can do many of the things that married couples can do under law. This includes filing joint tax returns together. They can use the same last name, too.

Common Law Marriage Separation

In every situation, there is the risk that two people will be unable to remain together. In these states, there are rules governing the division of assets. The following applies in common law states in terms of property ownership.

The deed to any property or any type of registration document tells who owns the property. In other words, you do not jointly own all items but rather those items in which your name is on the ownership documents.

In situations where both parties have their name on the title or document of ownership, each party has a half-interest in the ownership of it.

In situations where there is no document that outlines specific ownership, most states recognize that if the individual purchased it, they own it outright. If both parties purchased it or shared money purchased it, then it is owned jointly by both parties and each has a half-interest in the property.

Common Law Marriage Recognition in Another State

In a common law marriage, the marriage itself is recognized in every state. If you live in a common law state and meet the requirements to legally be recognized as married, every other state recognizes this marriage as being legal. If you move to another state, even one that does not recognize such marriages, you remain married legally. If you plan to divorce the person your common law wife or husband, you must go through the same divorce proceedings as you would if you were married in the traditional form. Though it may seem complex, the only defining difference in these marriages centers around how you were married in the first place.

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