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What is Common Law Marriage?

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Many people have heard the myth that if you live together with your romantic partner for seven years, you are “common law married.” If you break up after seven years, the myth suggests, you can ask for alimony and property division. While common law marriage does exist, as with most things in the law, the reality is more complex. Read on to learn about common law marriage and how it works in California, and reach out to a knowledgeable Claremont family law attorney for help with a family law matter in Southern California.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is a legal doctrine that recognizes two people as married to one another even if they never went through the formalities of marriage, such as obtaining a marriage license and having a certified minister perform a ceremony. If a couple holds themselves out to the public as being married for a long enough period of time, a court might recognize their marriage despite the lack of a ceremony. In those circumstances, the parties may be entitled to the benefits of marriage, such as the right to make medical decisions for their spouse or the right to alimony and a share of community property upon “divorce.”

Does California Recognize Common Law Marriage?

Although common law marriage has historical roots across the country, it is not recognized in every state. Only a few states, in fact, fully recognize common law marriage. California is not among them. In California, a marriage is only valid if it has been legally entered with all attendant formalities.

Does California Recognize Common Law Marriages From Other States?

Although California law does not officially recognize common law marriage, California does give full faith and credit to legal marriages from other states. If you have a legal declaration asserting your common law marriage from another state, California will recognize your marriage as valid. Moreover, if you and your partner moved to California from another state and you satisfied the criteria for common law marriage in that state before moving, a California court could recognize your marriage for divorce and other purposes.

If you hope to make a common law marriage argument in California, you’ll need to make sure you satisfy the requirements in your home state. The requirements for common law marriage vary by state, but they generally require that you hold yourself out as married to the public, such as by residing together, referring to yourselves as a married couple, using the same last name, and filing joint tax returns. It’s rarely sufficient to simply have been in a romantic relationship for a long time; the partners must actually act as if they are married.

Unmarried Couple Property Rights in California

Although there is no common law marriage in California, unmarried partners can still have some rights with regard to shared property. Couples who meet certain requirements may have a claim for financial support or division of property when they break up, much like the claims available to spouses upon divorce. These are known as “palimony” or Marvin claims (after the landmark case that recognized these rights).

Making a palimony claim requires proving that you and your spouse had a written or implied agreement to provide financial support or to share property and earnings, as would a married couple. Talk to your family law attorney about your situation with your partner to find out if you might have such a legal claim, and what evidence can be used to demonstrate your claim.

Unmarried Parents Have Custody Rights, Owe Child Support

Regardless of whether the parties were ever married, parents have legal rights and legal obligations. Legal parents have the right to seek custody and visitation, regardless of marriage. Additionally, both parents have a legal obligation to pay child support (unless they are satisfying their obligation through custody). Obtaining child support or custody rights may require proving paternity, depending on the circumstances of the child’s birth.

Call a dedicated California family law attorney at Blasser Law for help with divorce, alimony, annulment, custody disputes, child support, or any other California family law matter. The experienced and passionate Claremont divorce legal team at Blasser Law is ready to assist clients with any family law concerns in the San Gabriel Valley or Los Angeles County. Contact our family law office at 877-927-2181.

Blasser Law

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Claremont, CA 91711

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