Common-Law Marriage States

A common law marriage is an informal marriage where couples do not have a marriage license, marriage ceremony, or marriage certificate. But if unmarried couples meet specific requirements (according to state law), they are considered legally married.

Only a handful of states have common-law marriages. A few other states have limited common-law marriage. What is the purpose of common law marriage? Why does it matter?

If you have been in a long-term relationship but never filled out the paperwork to get officially married, you could still be entitled to reap the benefits available for married couples. A piece of paper should not stand in your way.

The benefits of common-law marriage include:

  • The right to inherit when your spouse dies
  • The right to spousal support
  • Division of property (in the case of a divorce)

Visit these articles for more information on legal issues related to marriage:

Here, you will find lists of states which fully recognize common law marriage, states with limited common law marriage, and definitions of common law marriage in each state.

States With Common-Law Marriage

Here is a list of states which recognize common law marriage (fully and limited).

  • Alabama (if created before Jan. 1, 2017)
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida (if created before Jan. 1, 1968)
  • Georgia (if created before Jan. 1, 1997)
  • Idaho (if created before Jan.1, 1996)
  • Indiana (if created before Jan. 1, 1958)
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
  • Ohio (if created before Oct. 10, 1991)
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania (if created before Jan. 1, 2005)
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina (if created before July 24, 2019)
  • Texas

Common-Law Marriage States

Here is a list of all states that fully recognize common-law marriage.

  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas

Note: Utah does not have common-law marriage.

States with Limited Common-Law Marriage

Some states have abolished common-law marriage. But they still recognize common law marriages if they began before a certain date or for a specific purpose.

Here is a list of states that recognize limited common-law marriage.

  • Alabama (if the marriage began before Jan. 1, 2017)
  • Florida (if created before Jan. 1, 1968)
  • Georgia (if created before Jan. 1, 1997)
  • Idaho (if created before Jan. 1, 1996)
  • Indiana (if created before Jan. 1, 1958)
  • New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
  • Ohio (if created before Oct. 10, 1991)
  • Pennsylvania (if created before Jan. 1, 2005)
  • South Carolina (if created before July 24, 2019)

What If We Move to a Different State? Are We Still Common-Law Married?

All states recognize common-law marriages if a couple is married in a common-law marriage state. Under the United States Constitution, the full faith and credit clause says that states must respect other states' laws.

This means states without common-law marriage still must recognize a common-law marriage from another state. But this only applies if a couple's relationship meets all the requirements of a common-law marriage while living in a common-law marriage state.

But what happens if you are legally common-law married and move to a state that does not have common-law marriage?

Consider these examples:

A couple was common-law married in Colorado (a common-law marriage state) and moved to Ohio (a limited common-law marriage state).

Another couple is common-law married in Texas (a common-law marriage state) and moves to Louisiana, which does not have common-law marriage.

In both examples, Ohio and Louisiana will recognize that the Colorado and Texas couples are legally married (even though Ohio and Louisiana are limited and non-common law marriage states) because of the Constitution's full faith and credit clause.

Same-Sex Couples and Common Law Marriage

Same-sex couples can be common-law married. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the right to marry. The 2022 Respect for Marriage Act also provides protections for same-sex marriages.

For more on same-sex marriages and common-law marriage, see this article.

State Definitions of Common-Law Marriage

The following states recognize common-law marriage. The chart below provides the requirements for a common-law marriage to be considered legal in each state.

State Common law marriage requirements
Colorado
  • The parties must have legal capacity
  • The parties must intend to be married. The relationship must also be proven by the cohabitation of the common law spouses and their reputation in the community for being married (they have made a public declaration that they are married)
District of Columbia
  • The parties must have legal capacity
  • Parties express intent to be married and act as a married couple
  • Cohabitation for a significant period of time
Iowa
  • The parties must have legal capacity
  • Intention and agreement of the parties to be married
  • Continuous cohabitation
  • Public declarations that they are spouses
Texas
  • The parties must have legal capacity
  • Intention and agreement of the parties to be married
  • Cohabitation
  • Represents to others that they are married
  • While not required, one way to prove a common law marriage is for the parties to sign a Declaration and Registration of Informal Marriage at the county clerk's office in the jurisdiction in which they live.

Note: The law is changing in some states. Be sure to check the family laws in your state for up-to-date information.

Do You Have a Common-Law Marriage? Talk to an Attorney for Legal Advice

Whether your marital relationship is a common-law marriage can enormously impact your life. If you are uncertain about your marital status and if they live in a common-law marriage state, consider seeking legal help.

End the guesswork and contact a local family law attorney today.

 

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