Lita Epstein has người lớn years of experience as an author và financial writer. She has also written over 40 books.

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Peggy James is a CPA with over 9 years of experience in accounting & finance, including corporate, nonprofit, and personal finance environments. She most recently worked at Duke University and is the owner of Peggy James, CPA, PLLC, serving small businesses, nonprofits, solopreneurs, freelancers, & individuals.

Marriage vs. Common-Law Marriage: An Overview

There are many things you and your partner have khổng lồ think about when you're making a life together from where you're going to lớn live, who will take charge of the cooking, and whether or not you're going to have kids. But that's not all.

Couples also have to decide what they"ll bởi with their finances, including how lớn split the bills, joint debt, & how khổng lồ plan for the future. But there is another major decision couples have to make: whether to get married officially or remain in a common-law marriage.

Marriage is a legal union between two people that requires a license & ceremony in most states. You know, that day that many people dream of and often spend a lot of money on. Married couples are able to take advantage of a number of financial benefits, including being able to file joint tax returns, splitting income and pensions, & being entitled to lớn government benefits.

But you may choose not to lớn get married và have what's known as a common-law marriage. This type of relationship can give you many of the same benefits as married couples, but only in certain states. And it's not always automatic. There are rules you may have khổng lồ follow.

Although they may seem the same, there are distinct differences between them. A legal marriage guarantees many benefits even after the relationship is over. Although common-law marriages bởi vì qualify for many of the same rights as a legal marriage with a state license, there are others that may not apply—especially after a common-law couple separates.

Marriage is a legal union between two individuals while a common-law marriage involves two people who live together và present themselves as a couple without getting married.Fewer than a dozen states and the District of Columbia recognize common-law marriages.Common-law spouses who meet their states' requirements are eligible for most of the financial benefits of a married couple, including Social Security.Those who move outside a state in which they established a common-law marriage should kiểm tra with an attorney regarding their status after the move.Divorce is a possibility for married couples but isn't for common-law marriages.


Getting married requires being wed by an officiant in many jurisdictions. This is a person who has the authority to carry out a legal marriage, such as a religious leader, judge, judicial officer, or justice of the peace. This can be done either in a religious setting or in a non-denominational or secular setting such as a đô thị hall or courthouse.

A marriage license is issued & officially recorded once the ceremony is complete. In the U.S., most states require a legal marriage in order for a couple khổng lồ exercise spousal benefits such as filing a joint tax return, sharing financial accounts, và so on.

Marriage has many benefits. & it doesn"t necessarily just mean having a joint bank account. In fact, many of the rules are favorable for married couples. For instance, you can tệp tin your taxes jointly as a couple. Filing as a couple not only allows you to lớn earn more income & end up in a higher tax threshold, but you can also take advantage of many tax deductions, including:

Married couples are entitled to each others" Social Security benefits. One partner can collect as much as 50% of the other"s benefits. & if your spouse dies, you are eligible to lớn receive their benefits, provided they were older than 60 before their death.

Estate planning, retirement, and insurance become easier and, often, cheaper. For example, combining health insurance policies may reduce the amount you have to pay in monthly premiums compared khổng lồ those you would pay individually.

The benefits don't over if the marriage does. Divorce means you are entitled to a settlement. It may require a lot of work, but there is the possibility of a division of property.

Common-Law Marriage

Some people may choose khổng lồ forgo the legalities of marriage for a variety of reasons. They may opt for a common-law relationship. This type of union recognizes a couple as equivalent lớn legally married even if the pair never said their vows in a civil or religious ceremony và don’t have a marriage license. But this definition doesn't necessarily apply in all states. A full danh sách of states that recognize common-law marriages is listed below.

Those that bởi may not have official rules about common law marriage but there are certain conditions that have khổng lồ be met for a couple khổng lồ be considered married by common law. For instance, individuals must:

Be a couple living together in a state that recognizes common-law marriages.Live together for a significant period of time. Although many people believe seven or 10 years is the requisite time span, no state provides a specific time frame for cohabitation.Introduce themselves to friends, neighbors, và coworkers as a married couple, calling each other “my husband” or “my wife” and even using the same last name. Also, they must file their taxes jointly & have joint bank accounts & credit cards.Be of sound mind.Not be married khổng lồ someone else.

Common-law couples may enjoy some of the same benefits as married couples. But there are certain downsides. For example, if one spouse buys property on their own và doesn"t put the other one on the deed, it can be sold without the other"s consent.Couples should consider purchasing major assets using co-ownership agreements khổng lồ avoid this. And it"s also a good idea to review rights and obligations with an attorney who understands common law marriage.

But what happens if the relationship is over? Not much. That"s because there is no such thing as a common-law divorce. Anything you bring into the relationship is generally yours lớn keep. But you may have a claim lớn any assets & responsibility for any debts held in both of your names. But that may not work if your spouse contests the relationship as a common-law marriage, in which case you may need lớn settle things in court.

Although you can't divorce your common-law spouse, you should consider legally dissolving the relationship to resolve any liability for the support of an ex-spouse.

States That Recognize Common-Law Marriages

Fewer than a dozen states and the District of Columbia recognize common-law relationships, and each of those states has specific requirements that must be met:

Colorado: If contracted on or after Sept 1, 2006. Common-law spouses must be 18 or older và not prohibited by other laws.

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Iowa: Intended for the purposes of support for dependents, but otherwise not prohibited. Kansas: Couples must be mentally capable of making a commitment, must be 18 or older lớn marry, và must represent themselves as married in the community.Montana: Not prohibited & not invalidated by the state’s marriage chapter.New Hampshire: The statute uses the phrase “cohabitation” not “common-law marriage," saying such unions can be recognized solely for inheritance purposes. For instance, this may occur when an estate is being settled after one of the partners dies if the couple lived together for three years prior to lớn the death. Oklahoma: Aside from unions formed prior to lớn Nov. 1, 1998, common-law marriage has been the subject of conflict between state law & the courts. Overall, though, there is some validity to lớn this kind of relationship. To lớn be recognized as a qualified common-law marriage, the individuals must attest lớn the fact that they are living together, financially interdependent, not related by blood to a degree that would prohibit marriage, và are age 18 or older.Rhode Island: Both man và woman must intend lớn be married & act as if they are married. This means they must live together và present themselves as married to friends and family.South Carolina: The state allows for marriage without a valid license. There are no specific laws on common law marriage.Texas: Both parties in an informal marriage must consent to lớn be married, live together, và tell others they are married.Utah: For a "marriage not solemnized," both partners must be able to agree khổng lồ the marriage, and others must know them as a married couple.

Some states have ruled that only those unions that met the state requirements for a common-law marriage by a specified date will be recognized—not those that happened later. Those states and dates are:

Alabama: Jan. 1, 2017Georgia: Jan. 1, 1997Idaho: Jan. 1, 1996Ohio: Oct. 10, 1991Pennsylvania: Jan. 1, 2005. Partners must also exchange vows to be married uttering "words in the present tense, uttered with the view & for the purpose of establishing the relation of husband & wife."

What Is the Financial Impact of a Common-Law Marriage?

As noted above, couples recognized as married by common law enjoy many of the same benefits as legally married couples, provided they have lived in a state that recognizes common law for most of their marriage. These benefits include:

Eligibility lớn receive Social Security benefits as long as they can prove the number of years they lived together in a common-law stateQualifying for employer benefits through their spouse, such as health insuranceExemption from the gift tax for gifts to lớn each other

If a state recognizes common law marriage, & a couple does not want to be seen as married, they need to sign a living together contract—especially if they own property together or use the same last name.

Special Considerations

The question of common-law marriages applying khổng lồ same-sex couples is a little murky. Some legal authorities feel that the same factors that apply to opposite-sex couples in common-law marriages apply to lớn LGBTQ+ couples as well. As of 2021, only Iowa, Rhode Island, và the District of Columbia specifically allow for same-sex common-law marriages. In 2021, Colorado joined their ranks.

Civil Unions

Don't confuse a common-law marriage with a civil union. The latter is a legal relationship between two people that confers rights only on the state level. Civil unions were primarily a way for same-sex couples lớn have a legally recognized relationship before same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states after the Supreme Court made its ruling in the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

Not all states recognize civil unions. This means yours may not be valid if you move lớn another state. And whether a couple is same- or opposite-sex, a civil union provides no right lớn federal protections or benefits. It may be a good idea to kiểm tra with an attorney if you're unsure about the status of your relationship if & when you move.

The term common-law marriage refers khổng lồ a relationship between two people who decide khổng lồ cohabitate and present themselves as a married couple without the benefit of a legal ceremony & marriage certificate.

Common-law marriage still exists in many jurisdictions. Fewer than a dozen states & the District of Columbia recognize common-law marriages in the United States.

Many people choose khổng lồ live with their partners in the United Kingdom just as spouses vì chưng after they get married. But there is no definitive law surrounding common-law marriages in England và Wales. Couples in Scotland are able lớn make limited claims in the sự kiện of a separation or death while those in Northern Ireland only have access to legal protection in certain cases.

The Bottom Line

Couples who move out of the state in which they established a common-law marriage need to be aware that all states recognize a common-law marriage that a couple legally entered into in another state.

Still, they may want khổng lồ sit down with an attorney in their new state after they move lớn be sure they meet the legal obligations required to lớn maintain their rights as a married couple. Keeping good records can help when it comes to lớn claiming federal benefits—especially if they move around a lot.

And if a common-law couple decides to lớn part ways, even though there is no common-law divorce, they still need to lớn have their relationship legally dissolved. This relates lớn the fact that a person in a common-law marriage could be liable for providing the same type of support for their ex-spouse as someone in a legally binding marriage might be required to vì chưng after divorce. requires writers lớn use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in oureditorial policy.

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