Breaking Down the Myths and Misconceptions of Common Law Marriage

I’m sure you’ve heard a statement like this one before: “If you live with someone for seven years then you’re considered married.”

Well…that isn’t actually true.

In fact only 11 states and the District of Columbia still recognize common law marriage.  Fewer and fewer states are recognizing common law marriage as it is a lot more difficult to prove than just simply living with someone for a certain period of time.

Disclaimer here: I can only specifically speak about the state of common law marriages in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Maryland does not recognize common law marriage.  In order to be married in the State of Maryland you must do it the "traditional" way.  This includes obtaining a marriage license, having a marriage ceremony, and receiving a valid marriage certificate.

The District of Columbia does recognize common law marriage, but it isn’t easy to prove, especially if one person believes a common law marriage exists and the other person does not (this tends to be motivated by financial factors upon divorce).

In order to prove a common law marriage in the District of Columbia the following four factors need to be met:

(1) No impediment to the marriage;

(2) A present intent to be married to each other during the marriage;

(3) Cohabitation; and

(4) The parties hold themselves out as husband and wife in the community.

The second factor is the trickiest.  A present intent to be married to each other during the marriage actually means that in the absence of an actual ceremony, during the marriage, the parties had to acknowledge a present intent to be married to each other, and not a future intent to be married (i.e. being engaged).  

The lesson here is a simple one, if you live in the District of Columbia, it is much easier to just go ahead and get married with a license and a ceremony, because it’s going to cost you a lot more money to prove that you have a common law marriage then if you just have a marriage certificate upon divorce.  

And just remember there’s no such thing as a common law divorce…

***This blog is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. You should contact an attorney to discuss your particular legal situation.***