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 September 11, 2023

What is a Common Law Marriage?

Happy middle aged couple. Man is holding woman on his back as they play in the yard.

If you’re in love with someone, you may be wondering about your options as you plan to start your life together. Legal marriage isn’t always the preferable fit for some couples. If you’re seeking an official relationship status without the paperwork, you may aim for a common law marriage.

Middle-aged couple looking out picutre window.Can you be married without a marriage license?

The short answer is yes, if legally recognized in your state. However, it’s important to know that a common law marriage does not always give you the same benefits as a legal marriage. Even if your relationship ends, a legal marriage can still provide benefits. But if your common law marriage ends, you may not receive these kinds of benefits. And you may still have to go through divorce proceedings if you and your partner decide to split up.

As you consider your options, you probably have some questions: How many years is common law marriage required to exist before it is recognized? What are the states with common law marriage? Read on to learn more as you and your partner prepare for life together.

What are the common law marriage requirements?

You may avoid certain paperwork and obligations when you choose common law over legal marriage, but you still have to meet certain conditions to be considered married. You’ll need to check with an attorney in your state to get a full list of conditions, but here are a few that may be required in your state:

  • You and/or your partner must not be legally married to someone else while you’re seeking recognition for your common law marriage.
  • You and your partner must both be of sound mind.
  • Live together with your partner in a state where common law marriage is recognized.
  • Live together for a significant period of time.
  • You and your partner may need to keep joint finances, such as bank accounts and credit cards. Mortgages and leases may also count.
  • You and your partner may need to acknowledge yourselves as a married couple.
  • A few states require you and your partner to file joint income tax returns.

Make sure you contact a lawyer to find out your state’s common law marriage requirements.

Which states recognize common law marriage?

Not many states are in the business of officially recognizing common law marriage. Here’s a list of the states where it’s currently accepted: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah.

How long do you have to be living together for common law marriage?

You’ll need to speak to an attorney in your state to get this answer. While no state statute lists a specific time frame, there may be case law that says otherwise. Check with an attorney in your state to make sure that you meet the requirement for cohabitation and common law marriage in your state. In most states, it takes more than just living together to be considered legally married.

Looking for legal help?

As you can see, navigating a common law marriage is no simple task. You’ll need to understand the legal obligations in your area, as well as the requirements you need to fulfill before you can even start seeking recognition with your partner. That’s why it’s important to have a lawyer on your side.

A LegalShield Membership gives you access to a dedicated provider law firm in your area. You’ll get access to LegalShield provider lawyers who can offer advice, provide consultations for an unlimited number of personal legal matters, review paperwork, make phone calls and draft legal documents, and help with many other legal aspects of your common law marriage journey.

Thinking of officially tying the knot? Read our legal guide on getting married to get familiar with everything you might need.

Keep yourself legally protected with LegalShield’s personal plan!

See also: Yes, You Can Change You Last Name Without Getting Married


Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. (“PPLSI”) provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to PPLSI members through membership-based participation. Neither PPLSI nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation, or advice. The information available in this blog is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations. The blog post is not a substitute for competent legal counsel from a licensed professional lawyer in the state or province where your legal issues exist, and the reader is strongly encouraged to seek legal counsel for your specific legal matter. Information contained in the blog may be provided by authors who could be third-party paid contributors. All information by authors are accepted in good faith, however, PPLSI makes no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability, or completeness of such information.


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