Is it possible for a couple to live together for some length of time and automatically be considered married? While many people believe common law marriages to be a thing of the past, they are still legal in some states. Of course, cohabitation is only one of many requirements that must be met to have a legally sanctioned common law marriage in those states that allow them. To learn more about this unique form of marriage, read on.
Common Law Marriage Requirements
In the states that allow common law marriages, the couple must meet the standards below. The main qualification, as you may expect, is that the couple be residing together. Surprisingly, there is no provision that the couple reside together for a minimum length of time, however.
Keep in the mind that the requirements for a common law marriage mirror those requirements for a traditional marriage. In other words, if you cannot legally marry in your state, you also cannot be common law married in your state. Normally these provisions include:
- Be of the minimum age.
- Not be already married to another person.
- Be of sound mind and not incapacitated.
Additionally, the couple must both be of the same mind and:
- Have intended and planned in advance to live as a married couple.
- "Hold themselves out" to be married. The couple consistently introduces and represents themselves to their family, their community, their friends and their church as a married couple.
Common Law Divorces
There is actually not a separate legal procedure for common law divorcing; if you meet the qualifications for common law marriage, you must divorce using the traditional legal channels. If you have a common law marriage, you cannot simply pack up and move out when your relationship ends.
Often, issues arise when one party refuses to acknowledge that a common law marriage was ever in place. Divorce can involve very emotional and potentially contentious issues such as:
- Child custody, visitation and support
- Spousal support
- The division of debt and property
So, there may be a temptation for one party to attempt to separate and simply walk away without going through a legal divorce process. When the couple cannot agree that they were common law married, a judge looks a the length of time they lived together and whether or not they had children together, shared a common last name, owned property together and filed tax returns as "married filing jointly", among other things.
It's worth pointing out that the issue of child support is irrelevant to what type of marriage you have, since you are both responsible for the financial support of a minor child and support orders may be handed down from a family court outside of divorce.
For more information, contact Grenadier, Starace, Duffett & Keisler, PC or a similar firm.