There are many reasons why couples who are in committed long-term relationships choose not to marry, perhaps because:
- They are fearful that getting married will cost a lot of money;
- They are put off by all of the formalities of a ceremonial wedding; or
- Because they simply don’t have the time or the desire to complete the legal procedures required for a formal marriage.
In some cases, couples who choose not to be formally married can take advantage of a legal arrangement that will provide them with all the same rights and responsibilities of a formal marriage, without having to deal with all of the aforementioned drawbacks.
Common law marriages
The common law marriage states list is long. In 15 states plus the District of Columbia, heterosexual couples can become legally married without a license or ceremony. This type of marriage is called a common law marriage.
You do not need to google ‘ what is a common law wife or husband, what is common law spouse or common law partner definitions’. There is nothing too complicated about common law marriages. It’s like an unofficial marriage.
To have a valid common law marriage (in any of the states that recognize it), the common law husband and wife must generally meet the following requirements:
- Live together as man and wife;
- Hold themselves out as a married couple—exemplified by using the same last name, referring to the other as “my husband” or “my wife,” and filing a joint tax return; and
- Intend to be married.
In the section below, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of common law marriage and a brief overview of common law marriage vs legal marriage.
Related Reading: Common Law Partner Agreement
The advantages of common law marriages
Can common law spouse receive benefits?
The primary advantage or benefits of common law marriage lies in the fact that your relationship will be assigned the same marital rights and responsibilities as are assigned to formally married couple, but without you having to be formally married. Common law marriage benefits are the same as the advantages of being married legally.
The law assigns certain marriage entitlements, rights and responsibilities to married couples (formal or common law) that’s it does not assign to unmarried couples. The most significant of these marital rights and responsibilities include:
If you consider common law vs marriage (the regular ones), there is not much of a difference, except common law marriages are not celebrated with a grand wedding party.
Please note, the financial disadvantages of marriage, legal disadvantages of marriage and the pros and cons of legal marriage all apply to common law marriages.
Related Reading: What Are the Legal Requirements to Be Married?
The disadvantages of common law marriages
- No presumption that a marriage existed
The main disadvantage of common law marriages is that even when your relationship meets the requirements listed above, there will still be no presumption that a marriage existed, so your marital rights will not be guaranteed.
With a formal marriage, you will go through the process of formalizing your marriage through ceremony and paperwork that will be filed with the government. So, you will have proof of a formal marriage that is legitimized and entered as a public record.
- No one other than you and your partner will know about your agreement
With a common law marriage, only you and your partner will ever really know what agreement the two of you have. People may hear you calling yourself husband and wife, but since it will not be formalized, it may be hard to prove.
- You will not be entitled to divorce unless you prove you got married
When the relationship ends and you want a divorce in order to determine how your property will be divided, who will get custody of your children, and how much child support and/or alimony should be paid, you will first have to prove that you were actually married. In fact, you won’t even be entitled to a divorce until you can prove that you are married.
- In case of break up, you might be left with nothing
This can be particularly problematic if the person you claim to be your common-law spouse denies that the two of you ever intended to be married. If you are unable to prove that the two of you did intend to be married, he or she may be able to simply walk away from the relationship, leaving you with nothing and very little recourse.
Moreover, if your partner dies without leaving a will, you will not be entitled to any survivorship benefits or to inherit his or her estate, until you can prove that you were married.
The advantages of marriage and the disadvantages of marriage will apply to common law marriage as long as the couple is together. If they want a divorce, they can still what regular married couples are entitled to, but for that, they have to prove they were married or had the intention to do os.
Contact an experienced family law attorney
The laws governing common law marriages vary from state to state. For more information regarding the advantages and disadvantages that a common law marriage offers to couples in your state, contact an experienced family law attorney in the state in which you reside.