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It's Not Common Knowledge: What To Know About Common Law Marriage

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Many people believe that if a couple lives together for a certain length of time, they can say that they are "common law married". This is a common misconception, however, since living together is just one of several requirements. To gain a better understanding of this legal relationship status, read on.

Common law marriages must meet the requirements

It should be noted that not all states legally recognize common law marriages, and the states that do recognize them require that the couple do some, or all, of the following, depending on the state.

  • Be of the minimum age to marry.
  • Not already be married to someone else.
  • Not be incapacitated or of an unsound mind.
  • Be of the same mind and intentions. In other words, both parties must "hold themselves out" to be married. They represent themselves as married to people in the community, their family and friends, their place of worship, etc.
  • File tax returns as "married filing jointly".

Is there such a thing as a common law divorce?

When the time comes to call it "quits," do you need to get a common law divorce or can you just walk away from each other and be done with it? You should understand that if you live in a state that recognizes common law marriages and you have let it be known that you consider yourselves common law married, you must go the divorce process. While there is no "common law divorce", per se, you must still go through the same legal procedure that traditionally married couples do.

Some unique issues can occur for those who want to divorce when common law married. One of the most common is when one spouse claims that there was never a common law marriage at all. The main motivation for this allegation is to avoid one party having to divide debt and property or to pay spousal support. When this becomes a matter for the family court judge to decide, the judge looks at several factors to determine whether or not a common law marriage did exist.

  1. The length of the cohabitation
  2. Whether or not the couple shared a common last name
  3. Whether or not the couple filed joint tax returns
  4. Whether or not the couple had children together
  5. Whether or not the couple owned property together

If you live in a state that recognizes common law marriages, and your relationship is ending, be sure to seek professional legal help by consulting with a divorce attorney from a firm like Urech & Livaudais PC.