What is a Common Law Marriage?

Marriage is a legal union of two consenting people, and once married, their responsibilities and rights regarding property and support are outlined per state law. There are many people who believe that cohabitation for a certain length of time leads to you being automatically considered married in the eyes of the state — a term known as “common law” marriage. However, there are only a few states that actually recognize common law marriages:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah

Some other states recognize common law marriages that were established before state laws abolished them, such as Georgia (before 1997), Idaho (before 1996), Ohio (before 1991) and Pennsylvania (before 2005). Kentucky recognizes common law marriages for workers’ compensation benefits only, and New Hampshire recognizes them for inheritance purposes only.

In all other states, including New York, you must have had a ceremony and have a valid marriage license to be considered legally married. If you have had a common law marriage in one of the above states, but move to a state that does not recognize this type of marriage, the new state will still recognize it as a legal common law marriage as long as it was properly formed in the previous state.

The specific standards for what constitutes a common law marriage vary from state to state. Usually, the amount of time necessary for such a marriage to be considered legal is seven to 10 years.

For more information on common law marriage and the legal issues surrounding marriage in general, consult a trusted Long Island family law attorney with Bryan L. Salamone & Associates.

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