Personal Relationships Common Law Marriage Law and Legal Definition

Common law marriage allows persons who live together as man and wife for a sufficient time and with the intent of having an exclusive relationship akin to a marriage to have the legal rights of formally married persons. Not all states recognize common law marriages.

Among those states that permit a common-law marriage to be contracted, the elements of a common-law marriage vary slightly from state to state. The necessary elements are (1) cohabitation and (2) "holding out." "Holding out" means that the parties tell the world that they are husband and wife through their conduct, such as the woman's assumption of the man's surname, filing a joint federal income tax return, etc. That means that mere cohabitation can never, by itself, rise to the level of constituting a marriage. Of course, many disputes arise when facts (such as intentions of the parties or statements made to third parties) are in controversy.

States That Recognize Common Law Marriage

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia (if created before 1/97)
  • Idaho (if created before 1/96)
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
  • Ohio (if created before 10/91)
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania (if created before 9/03)
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas