Understanding Common Law Marriage – Your Questions Answered

Welcome to The Law Office of J. Michael Clay, where we provide legal advice and guidance on a variety of family law matters. We understand that common law marriage can be a confusing topic, so we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help clarify what common law marriage is, where it’s recognized, and other nuances associated with it. For personalized support, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 210-694-5205 for a Free Consultation.

What Exactly Constitutes a Common Law Marriage?

While the idea of a couple living together for years and automatically becoming married is a widespread misconception, the reality of a common law marriage is quite different. To establish a common law marriage in the select states where it is recognized, a couple must meet certain criteria:

  • Cohabitation for a prolonged duration, which is not specifically defined by any state statutes.
  • Presenting themselves publicly as a married couple, which includes using the same surname, referring to each other in terms that suggest marriage, such as “my husband” or “my wife”, and filing joint tax returns.
  • Sharing a mutual intention to be recognized as married.

Should a common law marriage be acknowledged, the couple is entitled to all the legal benefits and responsibilities of a ceremonially married couple, including the necessity to undergo a legal divorce process to dissolve the union.

Which States Acknowledge Common Law Marriages?

Recognition of common law marriage is not widespread, but it indeed exists in the following areas:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia (only if established before January 1, 1997)
  • Idaho (only if established before January 1, 1996)
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (solely for the purpose of inheritance)
  • Ohio (only if established before October 10, 1991)
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah

Is It Possible to Legally Change My Name Under a Common Law Marriage?

Changing your name is a personal choice that is legally permitted in most jurisdictions. While you may start using a new name without formal legal proceedings, to have this new name recognized by government entities and various private institutions (including financial and property firms), you will usually require a court order. Unlike those with a marriage certificate, individuals in a common law marriage will need to obtain this legal confirmation to ensure their new name is officially accepted and documented.

Should you have further questions or require assistance regarding common law marriage or any other family law matter, contact The Law Office of J. Michael Clay at 210-694-5205. We’re here to offer you legal advice and a Free Consultation to get started on resolving your legal concerns.

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