A friend from church admitted to me that she and her husband of 28 years were in a common law marriage. They are a committed as any couple I know and have what most would call a great marriage. So, what makes a common law marriage different from the marriage that starts with a ceremony and marriage license?
While not all states allow common law marriages, in those states that do three conditions must be met:
1. The two people involved must agree that they are married
2. The two people must live together
3. The two people must present themselves as husband and wife.
In a traditional marriage arrangement a ceremony, complete with the marriage license, is the beginning of a marriage. Conversely, a common law marriage arises from the conduct of the parties involved rather than a ceremony.
While starting a common law marriage is different from starting a traditional marriage, ending a common law marriage is the same process as ending a traditional marriage. Once a couple begins expected marital acts such as presenting themselves to be married, filing of joint tax returns and the wife taking the husband’s name, they become married through common law. Common law divorce does not exist. A couple can only be divorced in accordance with the laws governing their place of residence.
Check with your state to learn the laws that apply to Common Law Marriages.