Location:
MARRIAGE;

OLR Research Report


March 3, 2010

 

2010-R-0112

COMMON LAW MARRIAGES

By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney

You asked how many states recognize common law marriage and the basic standards for forming them.

With some differences, 15 states and the District of Columbia recognize some form of common law marriage either by statute or court ruling. Nine of these place restrictions on relationships they will consider as the equivalent of marriage. The most common is refusing to recognize common law relationships formed after a specific date.

The two basic elements couples generally must establish are cohabitation and holding themselves out to the world as a married couple. Evidence sufficient to satisfy the “holding out” prong include the woman adopting her spouse's last name, filing joint state or federal tax returns, or referring to themselves as “husband” and “wife.”

Table 1 below shows the states and any restrictions they place on common law marriage recognition.

Table 1: States That Recognize Common Law Marriage

State

Restrictions

Alabama

None

Colorado

None

District of Columbia

None

Georgia

Only common law marriages formed before 1/1/1997

Idaho

Only common law marriages formed before 1/1/1996

Iowa

None

Kansas

Partners must be at least age 18

Montana

None

New Hampshire

Common law marriages are recognized only after the death of one partner

Ohio

Only common law marriages formed before 10/10/1991

Oklahoma

Only common law marriages formed before 11/1/1998

Pennsylvania

Only common law marriages formed on or before 1/1/2005

Rhode Island

None

South Carolina

None

Texas

Partners must satisfy 2-prong test and show that they are legally entitled to marry and have registered the marriage at the county courthouse. If no longer together, they must rebut the legal presumption that there was no marriage (unless they file a lawsuit for proof of marriage within two years of the date they separated or ceased living together).

Utah

By administrative order: marriage arises out of a contract between two consenting parties who are legally permitted to enter into a contract or have their marriage solemnized and satisfy the two-prong test above. The determination of marriage formation must occur during the relationship or within one year following its termination.

Source: Common Law Marriages: National Conference of State Legislatures (2008)

SP:ts