Proving a Common Law Marriage
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What Is a Common Law Marriage?
Marriage is when there is a legal union between two people involving a license and a ceremony. Once you are married there are certain legal rights and obligations that are created between you and your partner. A common law marriage, on the other hand, is a union that does not involve a license and ceremony. Usually it is when two people have lived together as if they were spouses for a long time, but did not actually obtain a license or have a ceremony to legalize their union.
Only a minority of states recognize the validity of a common law marriage, but in the states that do, those who are common law married are treated the same as those who are legally married. This is important for inheritance reasons, claiming insurance or other benefits, and obtaining financial support once the relationship is over.
How Can I Prove a Common Law Marriage?
In order to prove a common law marriage the courts will mainly look to see if there is any documentation to show that that the couple referred to each other as their spouse. This may be a signed written agreement by both parties stating that they intend to be a married couple or a signed affidavit stating that the couple is married. These documents are usually used during the course of the relationship for legal purposes such as obtaining benefits or including one partner onto the other partner’s insurance plan.
Additionally, the court might require a variety of supporting documents such as:
- Joint tax returns
- Records of joint bank accounts
- Documents showing joint ownership of a property
- A will or other documents referring to the partner as a spouse
Keep in mind that the type of evidence that the court will require varies state by state and depending on what state you are in, the court may require different forms of proof.
Additionally, there may be a time limit in place for how you long you have to prove a common law marriage in order to claim certain benefits. If your partner dies or if your relationship ends, there is a limited window in some states to make your claim.
Do I Need an Attorney?
As only a minority of states allow common law marriage and because it might be difficult to prove in certain cases, it is best to consult with an attorney to figure out your options. An experienced family law attorney will be able to tell you if you are actually common law married and will be able to inform you of the benefits and consequences that entails.
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Last Modified: 11-26-2013 12:14 PM PST
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