Common-Law Marriage Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Common-Law Marriage, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Common-Law Marriage?

It is the right given to a man and woman to live as husband and wife without fullfilling the customary and legal formalities associated with marriage.In this case they enjoy all the mariatal rights like inheritance, property ownership, spousal benefits and others.All staes do not recognize this law.

History and Meaning of Common-Law Marriage

Common-law marriage refers to the social phenomenon whereby two people live together as a married couple without officially registering their union. This principle of informal marriage has been recognized by various legal systems over many centuries. The United Kingdom established common-law marriage in the 18th century, after which it was adopted by the United States.

In the United States, common-law marriage became very popular in the Western states as a result of the lack of ministers and judges to solemnize marriages. Back then, there were no license requirements for formalizing marriages, so people relied heavily on common-law marriage to protect their family estates.

Over time, however, state laws have become less lenient towards common-law marriage, and now only a few states in the United States recognize it as a legal union.

Examples of Common-Law Marriage

  1. After living together for several years, John and Jane became eligible for certain benefits that come with being recognized as a common-law couple, such as health insurance and tax benefits.

  2. Bill and Claire have been living together as a couple for many years but have never registered their union. If Bill dies, Claire would still be able to inherit his estate as a common-law spouse as they had been recognized as such.

Legal Terms Similar to Common-Law Marriage

  1. Marriage: A legal union between two people after the proper registration and formalization of certain traditional and legal formalities.

  2. Domestic Partnership: A union between two adults, typically of the same sex, who live together and share a domestic life, but have chosen not to formalize their union.

  3. Cohabitation Agreement: A legal agreement, like a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, that two people who live together but are not married can use to define their financial and property rights.