In a handful of states (listed below), heterosexual couples can become legally married without a license or ceremony. This type of marriage is called a common law marriage. Contrary to popular belief, a common law marriage is not created when two people simply live together for a certain number of years.
In order to have a valid common law marriage, the couple must do all of the following:
- live together for a significant period of time (not defined in any state)
- hold themselves out as a married couple — typically this means 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.
When a common law marriage exists, the spouses receive the same legal treatment given to formally married couples, including the requirement that they go through a legal divorce to end the marriage.
Copyright 2005 Nolo