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Common law marriage by state in the US

Common law marriage by state

Common law marriage is an accepted form of marriage in a handful of states in the United States. Also known as cohabitation, the terms and rights enjoyed by persons in such a relationship are specific to the laws of each state.

This article looks at the states with common law marriage laws and how each state implements the law. Read on for more.

What is common law marriage?

A common law marriage is a union recognized by law between two people who cohabit and hold themselves out to society as a husband and wife but have not obtained a marriage license or had a solemnization ceremony.

The handful of states in the US that recognize common law marriage has specific requirements such cohabitation unions must meet to qualify.

List of US States that recognize common law marriage

States in the US that recognize cohabitation unions as marriage in one form or another include:

  1. Colorado
  2. Iowa
  3. Kansas
  4. Montana
  5. New Hampshire
  6. South Carolina
  7. Texas
  8. Utah

Common law marriage requirements

The few states with active common law marriage laws have specific requirements that determine whether a cohabitation relationship qualifies under the applicable law. In general, the factors that the law considers include but are not limited to:

  • Age of the partners
  • Cohabitation
  • Duration of the cohabitation
  • The familial relationship between the partners
  • The marital status of each partner
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Common law marriage Colorado

In Colorado, couples who hold their cohabitation relationship as marriage must satisfy the following requirements to qualify under the law.

  1. The couple who entered into the union on or after September 1, 2006, must each be 18+ years of age.
  2.  The union wasn’t entered into before the legal dissolution of a civil union or marriage of any of the partners to another person.
  3. The marriage isn’t between full or half-blood siblings, close families like aunties, uncles, and nieces, or any family relation that qualifies as incestuous.

Common law marriage Kansas

Kansas is one of the few states in the US that recognize cohabitation marriages. These marriages are subject to requirements to be legal under Kansas law; specifically Kan. Stat. §23-2502. The requirements include:

  • Parties to a common marriage must not be below 18 years of age.
  • The relation between the two parties must not be incestuous, as defined under Kansas law.

Under Kansas law, evidence of common law marriage is admissible in dissolution of marriages, which may come in the form of a testimony.

Common law marriage Maryland

Maryland is among the US states that do not recognize common law marriages. However, suppose a couple entered into a common law union and holds themselves as husband and wife in a state or country that recognizes such cohabitation marriages as legal, in that case, it will be recognized by the state of Maryland.

In Maryland, couples cohabiting and holding themselves out to society as husband and wife do not require any legal process to dissolve the relationship as it is already void. Regarding property division and inheritance, the outcome largely depends on the terms of the acquisition deed unlike recognizable marriages where inheritance and property division are dictated by established law irrespective of whose name is on the deed.

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Property rights and inheritance in cohabitation in Maryland

A real property acquired during cohabitation will be subject to equitable division if acquired under a joint tenancy or common tenancy agreements.

The difference between the two forms of agreement comes to bear when a party to cohabitation dies. In a joint tenancy, one partner’s interest in the property is passed on to the other in the event of death. In contrast, in a common tenancy agreement, a deceased partner’s interest in a property will go to their descendants in the absence of a will.

It is crucial to specify the type of agreement (Whether joint tenancy or common tenancy) in the deed. In the absence of explicit designation, the state of Maryland will treat a property acquired by cohabiting partners as common tenancy.

Common law marriage Wisconsin

Wisconsin is another US state that fails to recognize common law marriages. It means such unions aren’t legal and, therefore, will not enjoy the rights couples married through a marriage license or a solemnization ceremony enjoy under the law.

Effectively, couples in such a legally unrecognized union are not eligible to inherit properties that are solely in the name of the other partner in the event of death. However, a party to such a union may file a claim known as Watts Case to assert their claim to property, debt, and assets acquired in the duration of the marriage in the event of a breakup. 

A watts case is a civil process and is only limited to hearing claims for equitable distribution of properties, assets, and debts, if any, acquired through the efforts of both partners during a nonmarital relationship such as cohabitation to prevent unjust enrichment.

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Separate civil suits must be filed in court to determine claims such as custody and support if children are subjects of a relationship. By law, the child/children’s father in a nonmarital relationship must confirm paternity by signing paternity forms or through DNA testing.

What is Palimony?

Palimony is a form of alimony paid to a former partner in a nonmarital relationship such as cohabitation. In instances where the nonmarital relationship isn’t recognized, such as a common law marriage in Wisconsin, palimony is not applicable.


Not all US states recognize Common law marriage, and it effectively means there are limits to rights in such relationships under the law. States with statutes recognizing cohabitation have specific requirements. You must know the position of the laws of your state on the subject to make an informed decision.

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The contents of this page are for informational purposes only and doesn’t constitute legal advice.

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