What exactly is common law marriage?

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What exactly is common law marriage?

Asked on October 4, 2015 under Family Law, South Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Common law marriage is a marriage formed by the intent and actions of the parties, rather than by being formalized by the appropriate clergy or official. It has the rights of "regular" marriage, but it can be difficult to utilize or access all those rights, unless the couple went to court and had a court confirm that common law marriage--and if they are doing that, they may as well just get married formally. The problem is that the line between common law marriage and just living together is not always 100% clear, so outsiders may not accept the common law marriage without some documentation or confirmation. And most other states don't have common law marriage, so this would be alien to people elsewhere.
Common law marriage arises in your state when a couple is eligible to be married e.g. of the age of consent to marry not already married to anyone else, live/act as if they are married, intend to be married to each other, and represent themselves to others as married. 
One of the places where this becomes an issue is on separation, since if the couple was common law married, their assets will be divided as in divorce, whereas if they "just" lived together, it's like any two roommates going their separate ways. It's also an issue on death of one partner, for inheritance purposes.


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