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Kevin O'Flaherty

If you’re considering a common law marriage or think you might already be in one, you likely want to know: which common law marriage states recognize this form of union? As of 2024, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas, Utah, and the District of Columbia are common law marriage states, each with their own particular legal stipulations. Navigating the requirements can be complex, but we’ll guide you through the specifics for each jurisdiction to help determine your marital status and understand your legal standing.

Key Takeaways

  • As of 2024, common law marriage is only recognized in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas, Utah, and the District of Columbia, with each jurisdiction having its own specific regulations and requirements for such unions.
  • Common law marriage carries similar legal obligations and implications as traditional marriage, requiring a legal divorce to terminate the union and adhering to state laws regarding property division and child custody in the event of separation.
  • The legal landscape for common law marriage, especially for same-sex couples, has evolved, with federal mandates such as the Full Faith and Credit Clause and the Respect for Marriage Act ensuring nationwide recognition of valid common law marriages regardless of state lines.

Exploring States That Recognize Common Law Marriages

Illustration of a couple in a legal setting

Common law marriages are not uniformly acknowledged throughout the United States. As of 2024, a limited number of regions consider themselves common law marriage states, recognizing these types of unions. The entities that do so include:

  • Colorado
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • District of Columbia

The manner in which each area recognizes and validates common law marriages is subject to variation. Each jurisdiction adheres to its specific rules governing the establishment and acknowledgment of common law partnerships. We will delve into the distinct regulations present within these locales to better understand their individual approaches towards common law marriage recognition.

Colorado: The Centennial State's Approach

Colorado stands among the limited number of states that recognize common law marriage. It is important to remember that every state has distinct laws, and the way Colorado accepts common law marriage might differ from its acknowledgment in other states.

Iowa: Common Law Marriage in the Hawkeye State

In Iowa, the establishment of a common law marriage is recognized within legal parameters and involves specific criteria. A couple must mutually consent to being married, live together consistently as if they are spouses, and publicly declare their marital bond in order to constitute a valid common law marriage under Iowa state laws. Notably, there’s no stipulated duration that partners need to cohabit before their relationship can be acknowledged as a common-law union.

Demonstrating themselves outwardly as a married unit may support claims of a common law marriage. This could involve actions like sharing a surname, wearing matrimonial rings or acknowledging each other as spouses on formal paperwork. These indications alone do not confirm the existence of such an arrangement — ultimately it falls under the jurisdiction of Iowa’s courts to determine whether couples meet all necessary conditions for being considered legally wed through common law matrimony.

Kansas: Heartland Recognition of Informal Unions

In Kansas, common law marriages are given legal status. They must meet certain criteria to be validated. For partners to enter into a common law marriage in the state of Kansas, it’s essential that both individuals have the legal capacity for marriage and there are no barriers preventing their union.

The establishment of a common law marriage in this jurisdiction requires adherence to specific conditions.

  1. An actual agreement between the parties to live as husband and wife is necessary—this agreement does not need written documentation but should represent an explicit mutual intention.
  2. Partners should engage in conduct such as referring to each other with spousal titles or submitting joint tax returns, thereby presenting themselves within society as married.
  3. Simply living together doesn’t equate to establishing a common law marriage under Kansas statutes. All prescribed elements signifying more than platonic cohabitation or an undefined partnership must be fulfilled.

It falls upon those claiming the existence of a common law marriage in Kansas to provide evidence substantiating its validity, which may include providing documented proof like executing an Affidavit of Common Law Marriage when required for various formalities.

Montana: Big Sky Country's Stance on Non-Ceremonial Marriages

In Montana, marriages that are not formalized through a license and ceremony, known as common law marriages, are legally acknowledged. For such a marriage to be considered valid under the common law in Montana, parties must have the legal capacity to marry each other, share mutual consent and agreement towards being married, and validate their union by living together while maintaining a reputation in public as husband and wife.

Notably absent from Montana’s requirements for establishing a common law marriage is any mandatory time period of cohabitation. To demonstrate the existence of these marital arrangements, various types of evidence can be presented including:

  • The exchange of wedding bands
  • Adoption of the same surname
  • Completion of joint income tax forms
  • Openly addressing one another in terms like husband or wife

For documentation purposes within this state, an Affidavit or Declaration affirming said relationship can officially record your status akin to traditional ceremonial unions without requiring solemnization — reinforcing its recognition within legal contexts regarding matrimonial relationships governed by shared assets or inheritance rights among others.

New Hampshire: Granite State Guidelines for Common Law Unions

In New Hampshire, the concept of common law marriage is acknowledged solely for inheritance purposes and only comes into play upon the passing of one partner. This recognition within the Granite State’s legal framework is restricted to this particular situation.

Texas: The Lone Star State and Informal Marriages

Texas, often referred to as the Lone Star State, acknowledges the validity of common law marriages. While it is beyond this section’s scope to delve into specific requisites for forming a common law marriage in Texas, one should note that Texas stands with those jurisdictions that recognize such marriages.

Utah: Defining Marital Relationships Without Formal Ceremonies in Utah

Utah stands as one of the states that recognize common law marriages, integrating this form of marriage into its vital family law structure, although the details might vary.

District of Columbia: Federal District Perspectives on Common Law Marriage

In the District of Columbia, common law marriage is a recognized form of marital union that doesn’t necessitate acquiring a marriage license or undergoing a formal ceremony. For couples to be acknowledged as married under common law in D.C., they must live together and openly conduct themselves as spouses in society.

For such a marriage to be deemed valid by the district’s standards, there must be mutual agreement between partners coupled with an intention to embark on matrimony. The Superior Court within D.C. has authority over disputes related to common law marriages and is empowered to confirm or deny their existence based on evidence presented before it. Decisions made by this court have set precedents for recognizing these unions, often taking into account factors like shared economic duties and consistent recognition by others as being married.

It’s important to note that laws pertaining specifically to federal jurisdiction differ from state regulations regarding marriage. Hence, D.C.’s approach toward acknowledging common law marriages may not coincide with individual states’ legal frameworks governing such relationships.

Understanding the Legal Implications of Common Law Marriage

Illustration of property division in common law marriage

Entering into a common law marriage might be less formal than traditional marriage, but it carries similar legal consequences. Such marriages remain binding until legally dissolved by divorce or ended by the death of a partner, requiring couples to undergo the conventional legal proceedings for dissolution as any other married couple would. In jurisdictions that recognize common law marriages, once such a union is established under common law provisions, property separation during a divorce will conform to the same statutes governing asset division for spouses in ceremonial marriages—abiding by either community property norms or equitable distribution standards.

Should partners reach an agreement on how their assets should be divided upon separation, they can do so autonomously without judicial involvement. Absent mutual agreement on this matter, state laws regarding asset ownership become decisive when navigating through divorce settlements.

Regarding issues of child custody within the realm of common-law partnerships. These are managed comparable to those within conventional marriages—with considerations given paramount importance centering around children’s best interests and taking into account an array of pertinent elements.

The Transition of States Away from Common Law Marriage

Throughout various periods, a number of states, including South Carolina, have ceased to recognize common law marriages. Such marriages were once acknowledged by states such as:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania

Though these regions have discontinued the practice of acknowledging new common law unions, they still honor those established before their prohibition. Some jurisdictions even respect common law marriages that began prior to certain cutoff dates or for distinct reasons.

In spite of this cessation, couples in existing common law relationships are required to undergo a formal divorce process should they decide to part ways. Post-separation obligations may arise for individuals from dissolved common law partnerships. They could be responsible for alimony similarly as partners from legally recognized marriages might be. Couples relocating from one state where their union was confirmed under the principle of common law need expert legal advice so that their marital status is preserved within the confines of another jurisdiction’s laws. For partners involved in a common-law marriage who find themselves navigating inheritance issues, they can face complicated situations if death occurs while residing in an area which does not acknowledge such unions under its laws.

Inter-State Recognition of Common Law Marriages

Under the stipulations of the U.S. Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause, states are compelled to acknowledge each other’s public actions, official documents, and court decisions. This requirement extends to common law marriages that have been validly constituted in one state. As a result, when partners in a recognized common-law marriage relocate from their original state—where such unions are legal—to another where they might not be ordinarily accepted, the receiving state is obligated by this clause to honor their marital status.

Given Congress’s authority over how states’ laws interact across borders under this same constitutional provision, there exists potential for uniform acceptance of common law marriages nationwide. Federal measures like the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) ensure that all states must respect common-law marriages between same-sex couples regardless of which jurisdiction initially regarded them as legally married entities.

The National Landscape: Same-Sex Couples and Common Law Marriage

Recent years have brought significant transformations regarding same-sex couples and common law marriage, primarily due to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that affirmed their right to wed. This historic judgment has been pivotal in advancing marriage equality and includes acknowledgment of legitimate common law marriages between same-sex partners. Following this decision, courts began recognizing these unions retroactively, thereby validating same-sex common law marriages that were established even before the landmark 2015 ruling.

Under the provisions set by the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), several important changes are instituted.

  • It repeals DOMA—the Defense of Marriage Act
  • Ensures all states, territories, as well as federal entities recognize civil marriages between both same-sex and interracial partners.
  • Compels those jurisdictions with recognized common law marriage statutes to afford equal rights to same-sex pairs such that their marital status is acknowledged across America.
  • Grants eligibility for a range of Social Security benefits previously available solely to opposite-sex couples but now accessible by those within validly recognized common-law relationships.

Same-sex duos looking forward claim Social Security benefits must prove their union meets criteria similar to those imposed on heterosexual counterparts – proving longevity and genuineness in their partnership are critical here. Common legal thresholds related duration-linked requisites pertinent survivorship pensions along with other spousal aids stemming from divorce hold uniformly applicable regardful sexual orientation married couples abiding under umbrella provided through institution ‘common-law’.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage Across the States

Individuals living in areas where common law marriages aren’t acknowledged, or those aiming to bypass the legal intricacies associated with these unions, have alternative routes available. Partners can establish cohabitation agreements that outline personal rights and responsibilities. Such contracts are legally valid across all states. These arrangements serve a similar purpose as prenuptial agreements but for couples not formally married. They specify the division of assets, liabilities, and finances both during the partnership and upon its conclusion. Cohabitation agreements prove particularly useful when significant disparities exist in individual wealth or when joint assets grow substantially—to prevent conflict should the relationship dissolve. It’s important to note that unlike domestic partnerships or formal marriage, these accords do not extend perks like mutual health insurance access.

Domestic partnerships—also referred to as civil unions—are yet another widespread substitution for marital ties offering numerous comparable privileges including inheritance claims, hospital visitation rights, and health plan sharing options akin to those within a conventional marriage framework. States vary in their requirements for establishing domestic partnerships. Many require evidence demonstrating commitment, such as jointly held financial accounts or shared home ownership documentation. One potential drawback is limited inter-state recognition, which could pose problems if partners relocate elsewhere together—a critical consideration for some over choosing traditional marriage which might carry other advantages such as fiscal savings from independent tax filing statuses.

For individuals seeking firm legal validation of their union in jurisdictions void of common-law marriage provisions often pursue alternatives like official marital bonds encompassing clearly defined protections under law since they don’t recognize informal wedlock approaches embraced by others—including strategies involving palimony assertions among unmarried pairs—an array falling outside regular nuptials’ umbrella but still desiring acknowledgement akin achieved through formalized coupling ceremonies.

Protecting Your Rights: When to Consult a Family Law Attorney

Consulting a family law attorney is essential when navigating the complexities of property rights and ensuring equitable distribution of assets and liabilities in common-law marriage separations. In cases where courts determine asset division and child custody, legal representation becomes critical during a common law divorce. The primary contention in affirming a common-law marriage lies in establishing whether the couple outwardly held themselves out as husband and wife within their community, necessitating an intensive examination of facts.

Attorneys versed in matters relating to claims of common law marriages are invaluable for collating crucial evidence such as witness statements from peers or documentation reflecting joint financial behavior which can be pivotal to corroborate or challenge assertions of existing under such unions. Demonstrating the existence of a lawful cohabitation union may prevent dismissal at preliminary stages like summary judgment, leading possibly towards litigation that will adjudicate on its legitimacy. Particularly pertaining to contentious probate disputes involving alleged common-law relationships, proving one’s spousal status is key to gaining access to specific estates along with associated legal entitlements.

In jurisdictions that acknowledge the concept of ‘common law’ partnerships when it comes down to dividing properties amid divorce proceedings—like assigning ownership stakes over residences—the distinction between separate versus communal property takes center stage. Judicial decisions might either grant exclusivity possession or mandate sell-offs with subsequent attribution among ex-partnerships. Partners disentangling from such informal matrimonial bonds need comparable settlements akin to those typically prescribed for legally wed pairs specifically recognized by states upholding this form of non-conventional marital alliance arrangements. It remains imperative couples hold candid dialogues regarding their visions around partnership aspirations including individual prerogatives while also seeking professional advice offered through attorneys familiarized with familial legislation educating them about alternative conjugality statutory advantages available within respective domiciles.


Delving into the complexities of common law marriage and its various alternatives presents a challenging journey. Grasping which states acknowledge these partnerships, the consequent legal ramifications, observing the shift in state perspectives regarding common law marriages, exploring substitutes to such unions, and recognizing when to seek expert legal advice constitute numerous dimensions of family law that one must contend with. The dynamic nature of this area necessitates continuous vigilance and knowledge acquisition. Let this detailed guide be your navigational aid through the intricate domain of common law marriage as it stands in 2024.

Frequently Asked Questions

What state has common law marriage?

Recognized common law marriages persist in a number of jurisdictions, including Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and the District of Columbia.

How many months is considered common law marriage in Texas?

In Texas, a common law marriage does not have a mandated duration before it can be recognized. If both individuals consent to the conditions necessary for a common law marriage, they may proclaim themselves to be in such a union.

What is it called when you live with someone for 7 years but not married?

Living with someone for 7 years but not being married does not establish a common law marriage in any of the 50 states in the United States. No state has a specific time frame for cohabitation to qualify for a common law marriage.

What are the alternatives to common law marriage?

To sum up, unmarried couples seeking legal protections without common law marriage can consider cohabitation agreements or domestic partnerships, which are often referred to as civil unions.

These alternatives offer a legal framework for those who opt not to enter into a traditional marriage but still wish to have their relationship legally recognized.

What happens if a state abolishes common law marriage?

Should a state decide to eliminate common law marriage, couples who are already in such marriages would still have their union legally acknowledged and would need to undergo formal divorce proceedings should they choose to part ways.

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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