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Documents That Establish A Common Law Marriage

The concept of common law marriage has been recognized for many generations in the United States, currently in nine states and the District of Columbia. More than half of the states stopped recognizing common law marriage, as early as 1646 (Massachusetts) and as recently as 2016 (Alabama). Essentially, in a common law marriage two parties create a valid marital relationship without the benefit of a legal marriage ceremony performed according to the statutory requirements of that particular state.

The foundation to establish a common law marriage is mutual consent or agreement of the parties to be spouses, and thereafter a mutual and open assumption of a marital relationship.

Establishing a Common Law Marriage: Documents

When you establish a common law marriage, you won't need to go through the marriage process but you will have to prove you're union is valid. This varies by state, but generally involves documents that establish a long-term domestic partnership. Establishing a common law marriage in Texas, for example, requires proof that you've agreed to be married and have lived together in Texas as a married couple.

Examples of documents that can be used to establish the existence of a common law marriage are listed below.

  • A personal affidavit stating when and where you and your common law spouse mutually agreed to become spouses; whether you were ever married, ceremonially or otherwise, to anyone else, and the details surrounding the end of any previous marriages (how they were ended, where, and when); and any other details that will help to establish the existence of a spousal relationship.
  • Affidavits from other persons who know you and are familiar with your relationship, setting forth particulars such as the length of time you lived together; your address(es); whether there was any public announcement of your marriage; and whether your friends, neighbors, and relatives regard you as married.
  • Deeds showing title to property held jointly by both parties to the common law marriage.
  • Bank statements and checks showing joint ownership of the accounts.
  • Insurance policies naming the other party as beneficiary.
  • Birth certificates naming you and your common law spouse as parents of your child.
  • Employment records listing your common law spouse as an immediate family member.
  • School records listing the names of both common law spouses as parents.
  • Credit card accounts in the names of both common law spouses.
  • Loan documents, mortgages, and promissory notes evidencing joint financial obligations of the parties.
  • Mail addressed to you and your common law spouse.
  • Any documents showing that one spouse has assumed the surname of their common law spouse.
  • Church records indicating familial status, including membership information, baptismal certificates of the parties' child(ren), Sunday School registration forms, etc.

What if My State Doesn't Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Even if you currently live in a state that doesn't specifically recognize common law marriages, you may be able to establish a common law marriage if you used to live in a common law state and can offer written documentation.

Have a Question About Marriage Laws in Your State? Talk to an Attorney

Common law marriage is a unique legal concept and if you and a partner meet the requirements in your state, it could have a significant impact on the disposition of your property. Reach out to a family law attorney near you to find out about the marriage laws in your state and discuss your specific situation.

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