Sometimes couples who have lived together and been partners for an extended period of time characterize themselves as married, even though they didn’t go through the legal process of doing so. In these cases, this is what is known as a common law marriage. A common law marriage is a type of marriage only recognized in a few states across the country. The legal rights and benefits for those who are in a common law marriage are much different than those in a traditional marriage.
Common law marriage, sometimes called “non-ceremonial marriage,” is a form of marriage that can be claimed by couples who have been romantic partners and lived together for an extended period of time. In most cases of common law marriage, the couples live together, share finances, have children together, and even have their home under both partners’ names. The biggest difference between a common law marriage and a traditional marriage is that there is no marriage license acquired or ceremony that occurs to state that the marriage took place. For example, a couple that has lived together for over 10 years, has joint bank accounts, shares the same last name, shares a car, and identifies as married to their friends and family can be married through common law in eligible states. Because common law marriage is one of the oldest forms of marriage, dating back to the 1800s, most states no longer recognize it as a valid form of matrimony.
The state of California does not recognize common law marriage. This means that even if a couple meets the requirements of what is technically a common law marriage in other states, it is still not recognized as a legal marriage in California. As of 2022, the remaining states that still legally recognize common law marriage include Colorado, Iowa, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and New Hampshire in certain circumstances.
While a common law marriage cannot be legally created in California, there are some exceptions where the state will recognize a common law marriage as valid. The state of California will recognize common law marriages formed in other states where it is legal. For example, if a couple meets all the requirements and is considered legally married through common law in Oklahoma, the California government recognizes this and still sees the couple as married. If you move from a state that recognizes common law marriage to one that does not, you will need to have your marriage validated by the current state you reside in.
Many unmarried couples are scared that they will not have any rights if their long-term relationship ends. Luckily, while they do not have the same rights as married couples, California does provide rights to unmarried couples during their relationship and after, if needed.
For example, some couples remain together for a long period of time, share assets like community property, or even agree to help their partner with finances. One right given to unmarried couples is the right to file a potential palimony claim. Palimony occurs when an unmarried couple separates but one partner promised to help sustain the other for an extended period of time. Often referred to as “Lee Marvin claims,” some situations may allow a partner to bring a palimony claim to court if they are eligible.
To receive palimony, an implied agreement between the couple must be proven. This part can often be difficult, as many couples who make these kinds of agreements do so verbally. If an individual can prove that they and their partner had some sort of agreement where one would take care of the other, then they may be able to file a palimony claim in California.
A: California stopped recognizing common law marriage as a legal form of matrimony over 100 years ago, back in 1895. However, the state will recognize the common law marriage of a couple that was common law married in a state that does recognize it. A family law attorney can help you determine the legal status of your relationship.
A: While California is a community property state, unmarried couples do not have all the same community property rights and benefits that a legally married couple has. This means that property acquired throughout your marriage is not considered marital property or “community,” so it cannot be divided the same. Most likely, if you are separating but unmarried, property will be divided depending on whose name it is under.
A: According to California law, if two people are unmarried, they are still seen as separate entities in the eyes of the law. This means that their finances are not jointly owned unless both partners’ names are on the account. When an unmarried couple separates, each partner is entitled to their own money, and any joint accounts will be split equally.
A: If a couple is unmarried and decides to separate, one spouse is not entitled to pay the other spouse alimony after they end their relationship. If there is a child involved, however, one partner may still be responsible for paying child support. To determine if there will be any financial obligations after the relationship ends, it is best to consult a family law attorney.
A: Yes. Even if a couple is unmarried, both parents will still have legal custody rights to their child. In most child custody cases involving unmarried parents, it is best to hire an experienced family law attorney to help you and your spouse come to an agreement and go through the legal process.
Here at All American Law, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of our clients. Whether you were married under common law in another state or you are an unmarried couple separating and trying to divide property, our team has the experience and knowledge to help with any of your family law matters. To learn more about our team and how we may be able to help you, contact us today for more information.