Understanding Common Law Marriage State-by-State Guide

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Understanding common law marriage can be complex, especially considering the variations in laws from state to state. In this comprehensive guide, we explore common law marriage state-by-state, shedding light on the legal nuances and implications across different jurisdictions.

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is a legal concept that recognizes a couple as married despite the absence of a formal marriage ceremony or marriage license. Instead, couples establish their marital status through cohabitation and mutual agreement to be married, meeting certain criteria outlined by each state’s laws.

State-by-State Analysis

Each state has its own laws governing common law marriage, with variations in requirements and recognition. Let’s delve into the specifics of common law marriage in key states across the United States.


In Texas, common law marriage is recognized if the couple agrees to be married, lives together as spouses, and holds themselves out as married to others. There is no minimum duration of cohabitation required, but the couple must present themselves as married to the public.


Colorado also recognizes common law marriage under similar criteria. The couple must have the intent to be married, cohabitate, and openly present themselves as married. Unlike Texas, Colorado has a specific time requirement for cohabitation, which is often interpreted as living together for a certain period with the intent to be married.


Pennsylvania does not explicitly recognize common law marriage for couples who establish their relationship after January 1, 2005. However, for couples who entered into common law marriages before this date, the state still recognizes their marital status.


Alabama is another state that recognizes common law marriage under specific conditions. Couples must have the capacity to marry, mutually consent to be married, and cohabitate. Additionally, they must hold themselves out as married to the public.


In Kansas, common law marriage is recognized if the couple is of legal age, not already married, and cohabitates with the intent to be married. Unlike some states, Kansas does not require the couple to hold themselves out as married to others.


Ohio abolished common law marriage for unions established after October 10, 1991. However, common law marriages entered into before this date are still recognized by the state. Couples must meet the criteria of mutual consent and cohabitation.


Oklahoma recognizes common law marriage if the couple agrees to be married, cohabitates, and presents themselves as married to others. The state does not have a specific time requirement for cohabitation.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., does not recognize common law marriage. Couples must obtain a marriage license and have a formal ceremony to be legally married in the district.


Navigating common law marriage state-by-state requires a thorough understanding of each state’s laws and requirements. Couples considering common law marriage should consult with legal professionals to ensure compliance with applicable laws and to understand the implications of their marital status. Read more about common law marriage states

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