Common Law Marriage Myths

A couple becomes married by common law when there is no official ceremony, but the two people consider themselves married and meet certain criteria. However, not all states recognize common law marriage, and California is one of them, which brings us to common law marriage myth number one.

Myth – All states recognizes common law marriage

Most states, including California, DO NOT recognize common law marriage. Colorado, Rhode Island, Washington, DC, and a handful of others do acknowledge common law marriage.

Myth – There is no way to have a common law marriage in California

If you live as a married couple (by common law) in a state that recognizes common law and you move to California where you decide to pursue a divorce, the courts will work with you. However, this issue quickly becomes a complicated legal matter and should be discussed with an attorney.

Myth – Common law marriage occurs when you live together for seven years

You can live together for one year or 20 years, but unless you meet very specific criteria you won’t be considered married by common law.

Myth – You are married if you say you are married

As mentioned, you must meet specific criteria to be considered married by common law, which includes: 1) Living in a state where common law marriage is recognized; 2) Acknowledging your partner as your spouse or taking your partner’s last name; 3) Filing joint tax returns; and 4) Acknowledging that you plan to marry.

Myth – Courts don’t order support or property division for couples who never married

In California, the court recognizes palimony (Marvin claim). This means that if a couple lives together for an extended period of time and splits, he or she may have a right to receive support and/or a right to certain property acquired during the relationship. Always speak with an attorney to discuss your unique situation.