Many people believe you're common law married if you live with someone for seven years. But that's a myth. In reality, common law marriage (informal marriage) requires that the couple:
- Live together for a certain number of years (one year in most states)
- Hold themselves out as a married couple
- Intend to get married
Same-sex couples have the same rights to claim a common law marriage as other couples.
The law treats common law marriages the same as traditional marriages.
Only certain states recognize common law marriage. But all states recognize legal marriages from other states. So, your informal marriage is still valid if you and your spouse move to a state that doesn't recognize common law marriage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which States Recognize Common Law Marriage?
- Alabama (if created before January 1, 2017)
- District of Columbia
- Georgia (if created before January 1, 1997)
- Idaho (if created before January 1, 1996)
- New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
- Ohio (if created before October 10, 1991)
- Pennsylvania (if created before January 1, 2005)
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina (if created before July 24, 2019)
While the above states allow common law marriage, the requirements for those marriages vary. Some states, such as Texas and South Carolina, recognize common law marriage by statute while other states have only court-made laws. Also, the law is changing in some states. So, be sure to check the family laws in your state for up-to-date information.
Does My Common Law Marriage Legally Change My Last Name?
No, there is no automatic name change with a common law marriage. But you can change your name anytime you want if it's for a legitimate, non-fraudulent purpose.
A marriage certificate can prove your name change. But common law married couples don't have a marriage certificate so they must use another method.
The name change process varies by state. Generally, you file paperwork with the court and pay the required fee to start the process. In some states you can also change your name merely by using your new name. That includes changing your name on your:
- Identification documents
Many private entities also respect name changes via mere usage. But the threat of identity theft and fraud has led more companies to require legal documentation to change your name.
Be aware that 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 a Common Law Divorce?
There is no such thing as a common law divorce. Whether you live in a state that has common law marriage or not, if you want to end your informal marriage you must get a regular divorce. As with many divorces, an attorney is advisable because the court will have to decide on things like:
Get Professional Legal Help With Your Common Law Marriage
Common law marriage laws are complex. Only certain states allow it, and the requirements vary in those states. Because there are many situations where common law marriage laws are a factor, it's a good idea to contact an experienced family law attorney near you.