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Are You Really Married? | Iowa Common Law Marriage Explained

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
August 24, 2020

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. 

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.

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.

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Are You Really Married? | Iowa Common Law Marriage Explained

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