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Common-Law Marriage FAQs

How do you know if you have a common-law marriage? If you live with a roommate for five years, are you a married couple?

Generally, no.

Common-law marriage can change the marital status of an unmarried couple to a legally married couple — even if the couple never had a formal wedding ceremony or a marriage license.

The law treats common-law marriages the same as traditional marriages. Same-sex couples have the same legal rights in a common-law marriage as other couples.

A valid common-law marriage (informal marriage) requires that a couple:

  • Live together (cohabitation) for a certain amount of time (one year in most states)
  • Hold themselves out as a married couple
  • Intend to get married

If you have a common-law marriage, you could be entitled to the same benefits that other married couples have, such as:

  • Shared insurance benefits
  • Social Security survivor benefits
  • Pension benefits
  • The ability to file tax returns as "Married" jointly or separately

This article will answer the following questions:

Which States Recognize Common-Law Marriage?

Only certain states recognize common-law marriage. But all states recognize legal marriages from other states. Under the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, states must honor out-of-state laws.

So an informal marriage is still valid when you move to a state that does not recognize common-law marriages.

Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and the District of Columbia fully or partially recognize common-law marriage.

See this article for a complete list of states that recognize common-law marriage.

Does My Common-Law Marriage Legally Change My Last Name?

Your last name does not automatically change with common-law marriage. But you can change your name (as long as it is for a legitimate, non-fraudulent purpose).

marriage certificate can prove your name change. But, common-law married couples do not have a marriage certificate or a marriage license, so they must ask (petition) the court.

The name change process varies by state. Generally, you file paperwork with the county clerk and pay the required fee to start the process. In some states, you can change your name merely by using your new name. That includes changing your name on:

  • Accounts
  • Memberships
  • Identification documents
  • Social Security

Many private entities also respect name changes by mere usage. But the threat of identity theft and fraud has led more companies to require legal documentation to change your name.

Note: You must have a name change document to change your name on some government documents like your passport. Name change documents include the following:

  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Court order

How Do I Get Divorced After a Common-Law Marriage?

The divorce process is the same for everyone. If you are common-law married, you will follow the same steps for divorce as married couples who are not common-law married. There is no such thing as a common-law divorce. You must still file for divorce in court.

As with many divorces, hiring an attorney is advisable because the court will have to decide:

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Common-Law Marriage

Common-law marriage laws are complex. Some states, like Colorado, Iowa, and Rhode Island, allow common-law marriage. Other states like Alabama, Idaho, and Indiana only allow common-law marriage before a certain date. Plus, common-law marriage requirements are different in every state.

Because there are confusing common-law marriage laws, contacting an experienced family law attorney is a good idea to help you understand if you are common-law married.

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