How to Define Common Law Marriage

Written by ehow weddings editor
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You've been living with your significant other for several years. You present yourselves as a married couple but don't know if you have the rights of a married couple. Common law usually means a couple living together as husband and wife but the definition includes various other factors. In some areas, same sex couples can be married in common law. Follow these tips to define common law marriage in your area.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Legal advice

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  1. 1

    Know the law in your area. Different countries and even different states and provinces may have different definitions. Some states use the term putative spouse meaning someone who isn't married but has some legal rights. Some countries do not define common law marriage at all.

  2. 2

    Look at the definition carefully. Most definitions of common law marriage have several factors that must be combined for a couple to be considered common law married. For example, you may need to live together for several years and act as if you are married.

  3. 3

    Determine the time frame. Time alone usually does not define common law marriage; you may need to be married three years, seven years or more as part of the requirement. Time may or may not be a factor in your country.

  4. 4

    Check if children affect the definition. In Canada, the definition of common law changes if you have a child with someone.

  5. 5

    Pay attention to how your present yourselves. If you are living with someone but not having a sexual relationship or not sharing a last name, you may not be considered common law. Check the precise definition in your area.

  6. 6

    Define the definition of common law marriage with other legal issues like separation, divorce, custody, taxes and wills. You need to know how legal and government institutions define common law marriage if they do at all.

  7. 7

    Seek legal advice if you have any concerns pertaining to legal and government issues. Find out your rights. You may need to draw up a will specifying your common law spouse as your executor or beneficiary. You may need to use specific terminology when filling in tax forms.

Tips and warnings

  • Update your will and any papers pertaining to your death or your significant other may have no say if you die.
  • Don't just assume you are married by common law. Find out whether it is recognized in your area.
  • You can't just leave a common law marriage. You may need to go through the divorce process.

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