While it is widely believed that living with someone for a few years is a marriage without paperwork, there are just a few common-law marriage states. There are just eleven states and the District of Columbia that recognize a common law marriage in the US.
Alabama requires that, for a common law marriage to be legal, both parties must have the capacity to enter into a contract, they must both agree to be husband and wife and they must consummate the relationship.
In Colorado, you are considered married if you have a reputation for being married (telling people you are married, using the same last name, etc.) and live together.
Iowa permits for common law marriage if both parties agree to be married and intend to stay married, can prove continuous cohabitation and declare publicly that they are married.
Another common law marriage state is Kansas, where you must have the mental capacity and legal standing to marry, you must agree to be married and publicly represent that you are husband and wife in order to qualify for the married status.
Montana highways allow for “best judgment” highway speeds and they also allow for common law marriage. Their common law marriage requirements include the capacity to consent to the marriage, both parties must agree to be married, they must cohabitate and they must have a reputation of being husband and wife.
Oklahoma requires that both parties be competent, be in agreement to marry and cohabitate to establish a common law marriage.
The State of Rhode Island requires that those wishing to participate in a common law marriage have serious intent to be married and that they conduct themselves as a married couple.
South Carolina has the simplest requirements of the common law marriage states; they require only that the man and woman intend for others to believe they are married.
Texas permits for a man and woman to be common law married if they sign a form at their county clerk, they agree to be married, cohabitate and represent themselves as husband and wife.
If you cohabitate have a reputation of being married and are capable of giving consent, you can be married in common law in the State of Utah.
Washington, D.C. permits common law marriage if both parties cohabitate with one another and express an intention to be married.
It is recommended that, if you wish to represent that you are married in common law, you tell the community in general that you are married, use the same last name, file joint income tax returns and share financial obligations. If you do not wish to be married but meet the common law marriage requirements of your state, it is recommended that you each sign and date a letter stating that, in essence, you are independent beings with no intention to enter into any form or marriage.
Some states used to provide for common law marriage but discontinued that practice. While these states do retroactively recognize common law marriages, they stopped granting on the date listed.
Georgia – January 1, 1997
Idaho – January 1, 1996
Ohio – October 10, 1991
Pennsylvania – January 1, 2005.
After you have established a common law marriage in one state, it is possible to move to a state that does not recognize this type of commitment and still allow for your marriage to be accepted. You must, however, file paperwork stating such at your new state’s county clerk’s office.
This is a murky section of the law, though, and it’s best not to assume every state will recognize a common law union that has taken place in one of the common law marriage states.