Common Law Marriages FAQ’s

What states recognize common law marriages and what is involved?

What is a common law marriage?

People will tell you that living with someone for a long time; will automatically result in a common law marriage. This is not true. For a common law marriage to exist, the couple must live together for a certain number of years (generally 1 year but can vary depending on the state law), publicly represent themselves to be man and wife and must have the intention to get married. Once a common law marriage exists between a couple, they will be treated like any other legally married couple. So if they want to terminate their relationship, they must apply for a divorce.

Only a few states recognize common law marriages. However if you have a common law marriage in a state that recognizes common law marriage and you subsequently move to a state that does not recognize common law marriages, you will be considered legally married in the new state. Presently same sex couples cannot qualify for common law marriage.

Which states recognize common law marriages?

Utah, Texas, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Montana, Kansas, Iowa, Washington DC, Colorado and Alabama recognize common law marriages. In New Hampshire it is only recognized only for the purpose of inheritance. In the following states, common law marriages are recognized if they were created before a certain date:
Georgia – January 1, 1997
Idaho – January 1, 1996
Ohio – October 10, 1991
Pennsylvania – January 1, 2005

Does a common law wife have to change her last name?

No. There is no legal requirement to do so but the wife can change her last name for legitimate, non-fraudulent purpose. While most private entities will accept a name change without much problem, government agencies, banks and other bigger companies will insist on legal documentation in support of the name change.

In case of a traditional marriage, the marriage records can be used as proof of the new name. There are no such records in case of a common law marriage. As such common law spouses who change their name must get a court order documenting the name change. This order will be required to change your name on government issued IDs, social security card and passports.

How can I terminate a common law marriage?

There is nothing called a common law divorce. But if your common law marriage is legally recognized, then to terminate your marriage, you must apply for a divorce by filing a divorce petition in a divorce court just like any other legally married couple. You will require the services of an attorney to assist you with legal issues associated with the divorce.

Even if you got married (common law marriage) in a state that recognized common law marriage but moved to a state that does not recognize common law marriages, you must file a divorce petition if you want to terminate your common law marriage. Moving to another state that does not recognize a common law marriage does not void or invalidate the common law marriage.

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