Common Law Marriage
Some states recognize and give legal benefits to common law marriages. These are long-term partnerships that have not been officiated by a ceremony or marriage certificate.
What Is a Common Law Marriage
Every state has a different definition of common law marriage. In most, a common law marriage will be automatically triggered if you have lived together continuously for 7 years or longer. Some will recognize a common law marriage after a year of cohabitation.
How to Become Common Law Married
- Live together for the duration your state laws require
- Be of a legal age to marry and have the mental capacity to marry
- Have an intention of marriage
- Consider yourself as a married couple and present yourself that way to family and friends
Which States Recognize Common Law Marriage?
- District of Columbia
Georgia and Idaho only recognize Common law marriages prior to 1997 and 1996, respectively.
What Happens If My Partner Dies and We Are Not Married?
If your partner dies without a will, their estate will be subject to the Rules of Intestacy. This means any inheritance will go to the closest living blood relative. That may be shared children if you have them.
Cohabitating will not guarantee you inheritance under the law, which is why common law marriages can be devastating in the case of one partner’s death. Depending on the names on the deed of the house, a common law partner may not even be legally entitled to the shared residence.
Is It Possible to Get Married Religiously But Not Legally?
In practice, yes, but your marriage will not give you any legal rights if you do not have a marriage certificate. If you want your marriage to be recognized by the law, you will need to have the ceremony performed by someone who can legally sign your marriage certificate.