PLEASE NOTE: No attorneys work at Unmarried Equality, so we are unable to give legal advice on any personal situations. If you have additional questions about common law marriage in your state, seek the assistance of a lawyer.
There is a common misperception that if you live together for a certain length of time (seven years is what many people believe), you are common-law married. This is not true anywhere in the United States.
States That Recognize Common Law Marriage
Only a few states recognize common law marriages, and each has specific stipulations as to what relationships are included:
- District of Columbia
- Georgia (if created before 1/1/97)
- Idaho (if created before 1/1/96)
- New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
- New Mexico
- Ohio (if created before 10/10/91)
- Oklahoma (possibly only if created before 11/1/98. Oklahoma’s laws and court decisions may be in conflict about whether common law marriages formed in that state after 11/1/98 will be recognized.)
- Pennsylvania (if created before 1/1/05)
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
If you live in a State that Does Recognize Common Law Marriage
If you live in one of the above states and you “hold yourself out to be married” (by telling the community you are married, calling each other husband and wife, using the same last name, filing joint income tax returns, etc.), you can have a common law marriage (for more information on the specific requirements of each state, see Legal Information and Resources by State). Common law marriage makes you a legally married couple in every way, even though you never obtained a marriage license. If you choose to end your relationship, you must get a divorce, even though you never had a wedding. Legally, common law married couples must play by all the same rules as “regular” married couples. If you live in one of the common law states and don’t want your relationship to become a common law marriage, you must be clear that it is your intention not to marry. The attorneys who wrote Living Together (additional information below) recommend an agreement in writing that both partners sign and date: “Jane Smith and John Doe agree as follows: That they’ve been and plan to continue living together as two free, independent beings and that neither has ever intended to enter into any form of marriage, common law or otherwise.”
If You Live in a State that Does Not Recognize Common Law Marriage
There is no way to form a common law marriage, no matter how long you live with your partner. There is one catch: if you spend time in a state that does recognize common law marriage, “hold yourself out as married,” and then return or move to a state that doesn’t recognize it, you are still married (since states all recognize marriages that occurred in other states). However, this is murky legal territory and we don’t recommend experimenting with it!
Unmarried Equality is not responsible for omissions or inaccuracies in the above information.
Much of the information on this fact sheet comes from an excellent do-it-yourself legal guide called Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples, by attorneys Toni Ihara, Ralph Warner, and Frederick Hertz (2008).