6 Common Myths About Common Law Marriage Debunked

Couple holding hands

Many people are still confused with what a common law marriage is. Some think that it’s not real, while others do and have been in a common law marriage without them even knowing. Regardless of what you might have heard, these six statements about common law marriage as in fact, just myths.

Myth #1: All States Recognize Common Law Marriages

Only 16 states — such as Colorado, Alabama, Utah, and Washington D.C. — recognize common law marriages. Common law marriages don’t apply to same-sex couples in all states.

Myth #2: Cohabitation Isn’t Enough to Justify a Common Law Marriage

Although specific requirements for common law marriages differ from one state to the next, couples looking to gain the common law marriage status simply have to cohabitate or live together and make it known to everyone that they’re husband and wife. For instance, they could file joint tax returns or the woman could use the surname of her husband.

Myth #3: The Couple has to Adopt Their Child

Children born from common law marriages are given the same legal rights as children from legal marriages, says a renowned family law attorney in Colorado Springs. The parents don’t need to adopt their child once they’ve already acknowledged him or her as theirs.

Myth #4: Property Acquired by Common Law Spouses Would be Divided Equally When They Separate

Only legally married couples are granted legal rights to divide family assets. This means that if you’re a sole owner of a property that you and your common law spouse share — your home, for example — you could mortgage or sell the property without your spouse’s consent and you could keep all the proceeds, and vice versa. If you’re planning on investing in a property, make sure that it’s under a co-ownership agreement so that both of you will have rights to it.

Myth #5: There is No Common Law Divorce

Unfortunately, if you have a common law marriage and decide to separate, you’ll need to get a divorce, same as a married couple.

Myth #6: All your Assets Would Go to your Surviving Common Law Spouse Upon your Death

Your surviving spouse would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you really had a common law marriage. There’s also the chance of your family excluding your spouse from inheriting property or making medical and financial decisions.

Put simply, you need to familiarize yourself with your state laws regarding common law marriage, if it’s recognized by your state at all. If you’re looking to get your marriage officially recognized as a common law marriage, make sure that you meet your state’s requirements.


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Sarah is a highly experienced legal advisor and freelance writer. She specializes in assisting tech companies with the complexities of the law and providing useful information to the public through her writing.