How to Avoid Common Law Marriage

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 20, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Like a lot of legal phrases, "common law marriage" gets tossed around quite a bit, but with little understanding of what it actually means. You just live with someone for a while, right? Maybe help them assemble some IKEA furniture?

As easy as that sounds, some people might be a little worried about winding up in a marriage they didn't intend. So here's how to avoid a common law marriage.

Start With the State

Only 15 states recognize common law marriages, so if you don't live in Alabama, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, or Utah you're good to go. However, if you are already common law married in a state that recognizes them, simply moving to a state that doesn't won't dissolve your marriage.

Even in a state that permits them, state laws on common law marriage can vary. For instance, Georgia only recognizes common law marriages established before 1997. Idaho's deadline is 1996. And New Hampshire only recognizes common law marriages for inheritance purposes. So check with your state statutes on how common law marriages are established and recognized.

No Holding

Even if you're living in a common law marriage state, you won't be common law married just by cohabitating for a certain amount of time. You still have to meet the state's normal marriage requirements (like being of legal marriage age and not already married to someone else), and most states require that both parties must intend to be married before a common law marriage can be established.

The biggest requirement from most states is that parties must hold themselves out as married. This can be established by:

  • Telling friends and family that you're married;
  • Referring to each other as husband and wife;
  • Taking the same last name; or
  • Sharing joint bank accounts or credit cards.

Therefore, if you don't plan on getting married, and don't act like a married couple, you won't find yourself common law married. (And if you do, there are ways to get common law divorced -- or really, just regular divorced.)

Whether getting married or divorced, if you've got legal questions regarding marriage, you may want to ask an experienced family law attorney.

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