Tying the Knot with a Common Law Marriage [Video]
A wedding is one popular way to get married, but it’s not the only way. Most of us have heard of common law marriage, but what does that actually mean?
The answer is more complicated than you might think.
Many people believe that if two people live together long enough, the law eventually considers them married. Some celebrity couples reinforce that idea, by living together for years without ever tying the knot, even though their relationships have every feature of a typical marriage.
But the fact is, simply living together, no matter how long, doesn’t make anyone married by common law, anywhere in the United States. Not least because common law marriage is not legal in most states.
“There are only nine states in the United States that have common law marriage,” says Beverly Hills divorce lawyer, Barry Fischer.
These states include Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and the District of Columbia. Each state’s law differs.
“Each state has its own set of laws, and its own set of requirements, and what makes a marriage and what makes a common law marriage. So, there’s a lot of confusion.”
He says most states, including California, abolished common law marriage to encourage people to marry the old fashioned way.
“The legislature, for instance in California, wants people … the public policy is for them to get married. In order for them to get married, there has to be a ceremony, a solemnization, an ‘I do’ – and a license, a marriage license to be applied for, paid for, and then recorded. Without that, there’s no marriage,” says Fischer.
In those nine states, couples typically prove their common law marriage commitment by living together; filing joint tax returns and keeping joint bank accounts; owning property together; publicly acknowledging a committed relationship; and taking a partner’s last name. Once recognized by the state, says Fischer, common law marriages provide the same benefits that traditional marriages do.
And for cohabiting couples in the other 41 states?
Take Hollywood’s Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. After 23 years, two kids and no marriage, they split–and were under no legal obligation to divide their assets.
But with legal common law marriages, ending them requires a judge’s ruling, just like traditional marriages. Because there’s no such thing … as common law divorce.