What States Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Common Law Marriages

Quick Answer: Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Iowa, Alabama, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, South Carolina, and Washington DC recognize common-law marriages.

Common-law Marriage Laws

Common-law marriage is a status that is sometimes not recognized by some jurisdictions and some states. Common-law marriage is also known as informal marriage, by habit and repute, or de facto marriage. No marriage ceremony is performed in these cases, and no civil marriage contract is created.

Common-law marriage does not have the legal consequences that civil unions have. Some countries outside the United States refer to common-law marriage as domestic partnerships for beneficial purposes. In basic terms, this coexisting can result in legal benefits, but only when recognized by state or federal law.

Accepting States

Some states recognize common-law marriage while others do not. Some states used to recognize common-law marriage but have ceased to do so. States that no longer recognize this status and no longer allow contracts include Massachusetts in 1646, Maine in 1820, New Mexico in 1860, North Dakota in 1890, Illinois in 1905, Arizona in 1913, Alaska in 1917, Wisconsin in 1917, Hawaii in 1920, Missouri in 1921, Nebraska in 1923, New York in 1933, New Jersey in 1939, Minnesota in 1941, Nevada in 1943, Kentucky in 1852, Mississippi in 1956, Michigan in 1957, Indiana in 1958, South Dakota in 1959, California in 1968, Florida in 1968, Ohio in 1991, Idaho in 1996, Georgia in 1997, Pennsylvania in 2005, and Oklahoma in 2010.

Other states never allowed contracts for common-law marriage. These include Connecticut, Tennessee, Oregon, Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, Wyoming, North Carolina, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

Currently, only ten states and the District of Columbia recognize this status, including Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Iowa, Alabama, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and South Carolina. Despite some not recognizing common-law marriage inside their borders, all states must recognize the common-law marriages of other states.

Basics of Common Law Wives

Common-law marriage carries many distinctions. One of these is that there is no licensure through any government authority, despite being on government public record. Common-law marriage is not created by cohabitation, nor is it solemnized.

Besides coexisting, two people must profess that they are espoused, and both individuals must also give mutual consent to the agreement and be of legal age. To qualify for common-law marriage status, the individuals must also be unmarried, not incarcerated, and be psychologically stable. Some states require that to achieve this status, the individuals must cohabitate for a specific amount of time. Each state is different, while others have no requirement.

The Internal Revenue Service recognizes common-law marriages as viewed as valid statutory marriages. Medical practitioners also recognized common-law marriage in their practices.

Rights of Common Law Wives

The expression common-law wife or common law marriage harkens back to an era when couples did not routinely live together without the benefit of marriage, which is now an overall lifestyle. Forty or fifty years ago, if someone whispered, “She’s his common-law wife,” those present were apt to gasp in shock because it was highly uncommon and even considered entirely inappropriate and immoral for a couple to cohabitate without being married. It simply wasn’t something that was done.

Informal marriage

Sometimes a common law marriage is called an informal marriage, where there is a written or verbal contract between the parties. However, there is no formal or legal license or ceremony. This is a marriage that has come about via cohabitation and agreement.


It used to be that people thought you were automatically common-law married if you lived together for seven years, but this isn’t true.

What is Common Law?

A common law marriage occurs when both parties live together, present themselves as married, and agree that they are married even though they did not go through a legally recognized marriage ceremony and get a marriage license. The couple has a permanent and exclusive relationship, and they mutually agree to, and on, this arrangement.

If the couple uses the same last name, files joint tax returns, wear wedding rings and refer to one another as husband and wife, this can constitute a common-law marriage. However, not all states recognize common law marriage.

When a common-law marriage is recognized, the parties involved get the same legal treatment that an officially married couple receives, including the right to contact a divorce attorney if the relationship fails and all that a divorce settlement entails.

If a common-law wife wants to terminate her relationship with her spouse, she must go through the same procedures that a conventionally married couple does. The obligations and rights of a common-law couple are equivalent to those afforded to those who are married in the traditional sense. The same goes for the common-law husband unless both he and the common-law wife agree to go their separate ways and not involve the courts in distributing their assets and debts.

Laws Vary Drastically By State

You must know whether you live in a state that recognizes common-law marriage. If you don’t, you cannot create a common-law marriage regardless of how long you have lived together.

However, if you live in another state that recognizes common law marriage for some time and present yourself as a married couple and then go back to the state of origin that does not legally recognize this kind of relationship, you can be considered married since marriage in another state is recognized in all other states. Still, you are walking on thin ice legally if you try this approach.

The laws of common law marriages vary drastically from state to state, and there is no blanket policy. For example, in Pennsylvania, a woman can be considered a common-law wife after living with a man for 24 hours if she has received mail at that address using the man’s last name, which is scary for a man who has no intention of being married. You have to live together for five years in Alabama before being considered common-law married.

In Texas, there are three necessary elements to create common law marriage, including living together in Texas as husband and wife; “holding yourselves out” as being married, which means that you have introduced your partner as your spouse or have filed a joint income tax return, and agreeing to be married.

In some states, one incidence of publicly declaring yourself as married can put you in a common-law marriage, so be careful if that is not your objective.

What is common law marriage in Texas?

  • Have you held yourselves out to be married?
  • Have, you ever filed taxes together?
  • Co-Habitation after Divorce?
  • Do you list your significant other on your health insurance as your wife/husband?
  • What is a Declaration of Informal Marriage?

If you and your spouse agree, the two of you can sign a ‘Declaration of Informal Marriage’ and file it with the county clerk.

Under Texas Family Code Section 2.401(a)(1), the county clerk serves as prima facia evidence that the parties have entered an informal marriage.

Read more at our full post on common law marriage in Texas.

Factors that a Court will weigh in Determining the Existence of a Common-Law Marriage:

  1. Filing a federal income tax return with the other person named as your spouse;
  2. Obtaining a life insurance policy and identifying the other party as your spouse and designating them as beneficiary;
  3. Purchasing a home or other real property where the deed is signed by you and the other person as husband and wife;
  4. Taking out a loan with the other person being identified as either your husband/wife;
  5. Sending cards or letters to the other party that state “from your loving husband,” or “to my loving wife;”
  6. Hosting or attending an event where you introduce the other person as your spouse;
  7. Your family members referring to a spouse as their son-in-law or daughter-in-law;
  8. Introducing the other person to your colleagues, neighbors, and/or friends as your husband/wife.

Is There A Statute of Limitations on Establishing A Common-Law Marriage?

No.  It could be one day.


There is common-law divorce under no jurisdiction in the United States or any other country. The case must be brought before the proper trial court for a common-law contract to be dissolved, whether in probate court or family court.

Specifically, in Texas, those desiring to dissolve their contracts must be separated for at least two years before proceeding. In these cases, the marriage is annulled.

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