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Kendra Clark

In this article, we discuss if you are really married based on Iowa Common Law Marriage. We define what common law marriage is, what to do if you move out of Iowa and into a new state, and what marriage rights you have in Iowa.

Under Iowa law couples are considered legally married two different ways. One way is the traditional form of marriage in front of a clergy, a judge, an ordained minister, etc. The second way is an implied “I Do,” it is a common-law marriage. Very few states recognize Common Law Marriage, Iowa is one of eight states that does recognize this form of marriage. When a couple is married by common law they may enjoy all of the benefits of a marriage including alimony, child support, and property division. 

Myths and Misconceptions

Wipe clean the slate of misconceptions:

  • No, seven years of cohabitation does not automatically grant you a common law marriage in Iowa.
  • Neither does the mere act of living under one roof with your partner, even if that home is brimming with shared memories and children.
  • The myth of a time-based recipe for marriage is just that—a myth.

Common law marriage in Iowa requires more than just continuous cohabitation; it demands a deliberate choice and mutual agreement to be married, shared openly with the world.

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is not governed by statute, so it makes it harder to define. To have a common law marriage you must establish three things:

  1. A present intent and agreement to be married by both individuals - Both spouses must want to be married, they both must agree they are married. The agreement does not have to be in writing, and a spoken agreement is not required. It is sufficient if they live together like spouses, and present themselves as a married couple.
  1. Continuous cohabitation - There is no specific time for living together. Usually it is means there are sexual relations and they have been together for a period of time not just weekends.
  1. A public declaration that the parties are married - You present yourself as a married couple. You may use the same last names, wear wedding bands. You refer to each other as husband and wife, and could be described as a couple using the terms Mr. and Mrs. You may share joint bank accounts, credit card accounts, and have property together. Anything that would give others the impression you are a married couple.

Proving a Common Law Marriage in Court

But how do you prove something that lacks the paper trail of a traditional marriage? In the courtroom, common law spouses must present convincing evidence—affidavits, shared documents, and testimonies—that their relationship fulfills the criteria of a marital union. The legal system sets the bar high, and navigating this obstacle course requires a certain finesse and understanding of what constitutes compelling evidence.

What if I Move Out of Iowa to a New State?

Very few states recognize common law marriage. If you move to a state that does not recognize common law marriage, then your marriage will not be valid in that state.


What Marriage Rights do I Have in Iowa?

Common law marriages have the same rights as traditional marriages in the state of Iowa. You have rights to the decedent’s estate should there be a death. If you get divorced you have the same rights as a traditional marriage. 

The biggest key to exercising these rights is to have the court recognize the marriage as valid. Consult with an attorney to help you with the process of determining if Common Law Marriage is applicable to your situation under Iowa law.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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