Common-law marriage generally refers to a couple who were never officially married but consider themselves married after a certain number of years. These marriages are only recognized in some states. Rights in a common-law marriage are not the same as those in a legally valid marriage.
Common-law marriage occurs when partners have been together for a long period of time without getting married. Partners in a common-law marriage will often make a verbal agreement of marriage without legally doing so. Partners will often:
Common-law marriages do not require the ceremony or licensing of a traditional marriage. However, common-law marriage is not federally recognized. It is also only valid in a handful of states.
Even if your common-law marriage is valid in your state, you do not have the same federal rights as married couples. Couples in common-law marriages must file federal taxes separately. To receive parental rights in common-law marriages, both parties must sign a child’s birth certificate. Otherwise, only the biological parent will have legal rights and responsibilities towards their child.
The state of California does not recognize common-law marriages. State marital benefits during partnership and after divorce are only available to traditional marriages. Domestic partnerships allow limited marital benefits under state law but not federal law. Even if you meet the requirements for a common-law marriage in another state, you are not considered married if you reside in California.
There are circumstances where a common-law marriage is recognized in California. If you and your partner lived in a state where common-law marriage was recognized, and you met the requirements in that state, your common-law marriage is considered valid in California. If you move to California, you may need to have the marriage recognized. However, it is generally considered valid.
Not every partnership is interested in getting legally married. However, there are no automatic legal rights for unmarried couples like there are for married couples. There are several aspects of a relationship that may be an issue in marriage or in separation if certain steps are not taken.
If you and your partner do not want a legal marriage, but you would like some of the benefits of one, you can enter into a domestic partnership. This does not require the same ceremonial recognition. However, it does require some legal paperwork. Domestic partnerships are not federally recognized. Nevertheless, they still provide you with certain martial benefits, including:
A domestic partnership in California can give you some of the benefits that unmarried couples do not have without having the same legal permanence as a complete legal marriage.
Unmarried couples have no automatic rights under California law. To establish legal rights, couples must sign specific legal agreements. This includes establishing the paternity of children, which allows them to inherit property from their parents. Legal documents are also necessary to claim tax benefits, access medical documents, and have access to property and accounts.
Common requirements for states that recognize common-law marriages include:
These requirements may vary based on the state. States that recognize common-law marriages as of 2023 include Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, and the District of Columbia.
A common-law marriage is not a legally recognized form of marriage. Common-law marriage exists when two partners:
This is only legally valid in seven states as of 2023. Common-law marriage couples who move to California may have to have their marriage validated, but it is often recognized. However, the couple must meet the requirements for common-law marriage in the state they moved from.
When a legally recognized and licensed marriage lasts ten years or more, it is considered to be a long-term marriage. This can impact spousal support on the state and federal level if you and your partner get divorced after a long-term marriage. You may be eligible for Social Security benefits after retirement from an ex-spouse’s benefits. In California, spousal support is not automatically terminated when a long-term marriage ends. It can still be modified for changed circumstances involving either spouse.
Unmarried partnerships can run into legal issues when one party dies or the couple separates. You have fewer legal protections in these situations, and you will not be entitled to inheritance or spousal support. If you are unsure whether your common-law marriage is recognized, or you need to establish what legal rights you and your partner have for separation, contact the attorneys at Najera Law Group, P.C. We can help you determine how to protect your interests during separation.