What States Recognize Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is when a man and a woman that live together in the same way that married couples do, but have not specifically been married through the legal process. Not all states recognize common law marriages. But, what states recognize common law marriage? The answer is not entirely simple.

Some states recognize common law marriages after a certain amount of time. Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington, D.C. are all states that recognize common law marriage. Some other states recognize common law marriages that have been created in the past. Georgia recognizes those created prior to 1997; Idaho recognizes those created before 1996; Ohio recognizes those created before 1991; Oklahoma recognizes those created before 1998; and Pennsylvania recognizes those created before 2003. New Hampshire recognizes common law marriages, but only for purposes of inheritance, rather than in all areas.

Many other states have recognized common law marriages, but stopped recognizing them a long time ago. North Dakota stopped recognizing it in 1890, for example; Michigan in 1957. Some states have never recognized common law marriages. These include Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

For most states that recognize common law marriages, there are specific requirements. In general, a man and a woman who want to have a common law marriage recognized have to agree to it; they have to be considered competent to consent to the common law marriage; they have to live together; and they have to either admit publicly to being married, or have a public reputation of being married. If a couple lives together but do not intend to be married, it doesn’t matter how long they have lived together, they are not considered married.

When a couple has a common law marriage, the marriage can only be dissolved by way of a divorce, just like a traditional marriage. If someone in a common law marriage wishes to change their name, they can do so, just as anyone who is of legal age can legally change their name.

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