What Is Common Law Marriage and Which States Recognize Them?

Only seven states (plus DC) recognize common law marriage. Find out which ones here.
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Erin Celletti
Erin Celletti
Erin Celletti
Erin Celletti
The Knot Contributor
  • Erin is a freelance contributor to The Knot and loves creating lifestyle, travel, beauty, relationships and commerce content.
  • In addition to writing for The Knot, Erin contributes to a wide range of publications including The Everygirl, The Everymom, Scary Mommy, Romper, Bustle and Brides.
  • Erin lives just outside of New York City, has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and two Master’s degrees in Education and Administ...
Updated Apr 08, 2024

When it comes to one's relationship status, we know things can get complicated. But in marriages, you're usually either married, divorced, separated or unmarried. Right? Wrong. Enter: common law marriage—a topic that has become somewhat rooted in mystery and surrounded by misunderstandings. But what is common law marriage, exactly?

A practice that dates back centuries with deep historical roots, common law marriage is essentially a legal scenario that allows couples to be legally recognized as married without being formally married. Meaning, no ceremony, no officiant, no documentation, nothing. All you really have to do is live together and present yourselves as spouses. But here's where it gets really tricky—it's not something that is recognized nationally, and its existence varies from state to state. Today, some states recognize it fully, some have restrictions on it and others have fully abolished common law marriage.

So whether you're just randomly googling for some new intel or are trying to find out whether or not common law marriage might apply to you, we spoke with Ashley Manzi, partner a MELD Divorce and Family Law in New Jersey for her expert insight. Here's what she had to say.

In this article:

What Is Common Law Marriage?

While Manzi advises that each state has its own specific requirements for a relationship to constitute a common law marriage, typically it is a "legally recognized marriage between two people who have not had a formal wedding nor obtained a marriage license or certificate."

Where traditional marriage requires going through the process of applying for and sharing a marriage certificate and, usually, a legal or religious ceremony that complies with the laws of the specific state, common law marriage does not. For partners that do have a common law marriage, Manzi says, "they may not have an official "date" of marriage or a marriage certificate. Thus, they must first prove to the Court that they meet the burden to establish a common law marriage (if it is valid in their state), or, if they are from one state where common law marriage is recognized and are seeking a divorce in another state, that they had a valid common law marriage in the previous state prior to seeking a divorce in the second state."

What Are the Benefits of Common Law Marriage?

Benefits of common law marriage include:

And Manzi warns, "It is essential to note that if your state doesn't recognize common law marriage, you may not be entitled to any type of support, distribution of assets, etc if you are not legally married."

What Are the Requirements for Common Law Marriage?

According to Manzi, states that recognize common law marriage require, at the very least, that:

  • The parties have legal capacity;
  • The parties intend to be married and mutually agree to same; and
  • The parties cohabit as a "married" couple for a significant period of time (which varies from state to state).

Which States Recognize Common Law Marriage?

In the United States, the following states legally recognize common law marriage:

  • Colorado
  • Washington, DC
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas

However, Manzi says to, "confirm with your state, as laws are constantly changing."

Which States Previously Recognized Common Law Marriage?

To add to the complications and confusion surrounding common law marriage, there are some states which used to have common law marriages but don't anymore, but still recognize them as valid if they occurred before a certain date. These states include

  • Georgia: Common law marriage was recognized until January 1, 1997.
  • Ohio: Common law marriage was valid until October 10, 1991. Ohio no longer permits the establishment of new common law marriages.
  • Pennsylvania: Until January 1, 2005, Pennsylvania recognized common law marriages formed before that date. Not anymore.
  • Florida: Common law marriage was recognized until January 1, 1968. Since then, Florida has not permitted any new common law marriages.
  • Indiana: Until January 1, 1958, Indiana recognized common law marriage.

Please note: The Knot and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, legal advice and should not be used as such. You should always consult with your legal advisors about your specific circumstances. This information contained herein is not necessarily exhaustive, complete, accurate or up to date and we undertake no responsibility to update. In addition, we do not take responsibility for information contained in any external links, over which we have no control.

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