So you’re living with your girlfriend of 7-8 years and the relationship is going great. You may also have a kid together, but you’ve never really married her. Maybe you both had an agreement in the start that you’re not looking for marriage, or that you never got around to serious conversations.
Does that mean your girlfriend is automatically your common law wife? Well, you will be able to decide on that better by the end of this article.
Common Law Meaning
Denoting a partner in a marriage as validated by common law, but many countries don’t recognize this as legal. A common law marriage is an unofficial marriage, where if two people are living together for years, they start to mention themselves as spouses for the world, without actually getting married.
This is a common practice in many states, but without a marriage certificate the relationship isn’t legal. And no, for a couple who lives together for a while doesn’t automatically get married- that scenario is not common law marriage.
Common-law Partner Meaning
A common law partner (common law husband/common law wife) is someone you have been in a long relationship with and where you both are cohabitating too. Cohabitation is referred to as a couple living together without being married. By qualification, in the U.S., cohabitation doesn’t consequently make lawful rights and commitments regarding matters like property distribution or financial support or inheritance rights. Rather, cohabiting couples need to talk about these things, or even have them written down to define ownership rights.
Common Law Marriage Requirements
For your relationship to be considered as common law marriage, there are certain requirements:
- You must live together (amount of time varies by state).
- You both must have the legal right or “capacity to marry”.
- Both must be 18 years old (varies by State).
- Both must be mentally stable.
- Both must not be married to someone else.
- You both must intend to be married.
- You both must hold yourself out to friends and family as being a married couple.
- Taking the same last name.
- Referring to each other in public as “husband,” “wife,” or “spouse.”
- Holding joint bank accounts/credit cards.
If all of these requirements are a must to be considered a common law marriage.
How to Prove Common Law Marriage?
Since a common law marriage does not have a marriage certificate or a license, there is nothing substantial to prove whether there is a marriage or not.
However, there are still some documents that can be used to prove that the common law marriage is intact, such as:
- Shared ownership of residential property
- Joint leases or rental agreements
- Bills for shared utility accounts, such as:
- joint utility accounts
- Important documents for both of you showing the same address, such as:
- driver’s licenses
- insurance policies
- Identification documents
Of course, states where these aren’t legal will not recognize these documents and still may not deem you as a married couple. You could take your chances!
Common Law Marriage Divorce
There is no such thing as a common law divorce, whether you are married in the conventional style or common law, the divorce process is going to be the same. You will have to prove that there was a common law marriage in the first place and then file for divorce.
This means hiring a divorce attorney, sorting out custody and child support, alimony and other various aspects. The process will be the same and you will go through the same legal obligations.
To avoid paying alimony, one spouse may claim that there was never a common law marriage in the first place, then to combat it you may show joint tax accounts, insurance policies, joint mortgages etc.
Common Law Separation
One thing is important to point out in such situations, that there is a difference between a marriage and a mere relationship. If the couple has never had an official common law marriage (not the traditional one either), they are only in a relationship. And no matter how many years they’ve been together, they can easily separate if they feel the relationship isn’t working out anymore.
A common law relationship can be ended when the two of them sit together and decide they would like to end things, there is no need for a legal process and certainly no need for a divorce in a common law separation.
Common law marriages are made ‘official’ through certain requirements and documents, and that is how one spouse is called common law wife and the other is called common law husband.
Common law marriages are common, but may not be legal in your state. Make sure you know what everything is and you have all the information you need to take forward your relationship.
Not all states recognize common law marriages, especially Kentucky, which only recognizes the traditional form of marriage with a conventional marriage certificate. Thus, in states that common law marriage is not recognized, the common law spouse is not entitled to any legal affairs especially when they split up: property, inheritance, accounts etc.