California common in law marriage


Does California Recognize a Common Law Marriage?

Hardwick in , the court upheld the enforcement of a criminal statute prohibiting sodomy between two homosexual men. Such holdings are currently under review in the United States Supreme Court and are likely to be successfully challenged. Note that criminal statutes proscribing private sexual activity do not violate the federal constitution under Bowers , though some state courts have held that similar statutes are unconstitutional under the relevant state constitutions.

Again, legal advice in your particular state is vital to obtain.


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For those readers in New York, California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and indeed most highly populated states, such laws either do not exist or are not enforced. Other states, especially in the Southern part of the United States, retain many of the laws and enforcement may be quite possible. A person living as an unmarried cohabitant with another might face some form of discrimination.

For example, an employer may expressly forbid employees from living together outside marriage and may terminate the employment of an employee who does cohabit with someone else outside marriage. Such discrimination in employment is not generally forbidden, either under federal law or under the laws of most states. Community property laws govern the ownership of property acquired during a marriage and its disposition upon death.

The characterization of property acquired by unmarried cohabitants is less clear. Some property acquired by unmarried couples may be owned jointly, see our article on Joint Tenancy and Tenancy in Common but it may be difficult to divide such property when the relationship ends and as our articles above describe, such ownership does not have many of the benefits of community property both in terms of ease of control and taxation.

Similarly, if one partner has debt problems, a creditor may seek to attach property owned jointly by both partners as if the partner owing the debt solely owned the property. This danger can be minimized if the couple complies with Domestic Partners laws that exist in some states. Estate planning can be far more complex for a cohabitating couple since the laws which usually apply to married couples under the law homestead rights, rights to family allowance may not apply.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

Children born out of wedlock have not traditionally enjoyed the same legal protections as children born in wedlock. Though many restrictions on illegitimate children have been repealed in most states, legitimate or legitimated children still enjoy some rights that frustrate illegitimate children. This discrepancy is particularly clear with respect to intestate inheritance. In most states, a child born in wedlock does not need to establish paternity to recover from the father.

However, a child born out of wedlock generally must establish paternity before he or she can recover from the father. See our article on the topic. State laws have traditionally prevented unmarried couples from adopting children. Though some states have begun permitting unmarried couples to adopt, these couples still must surmount prejudice and may face other difficulties. Married couples, on the other hand, are permitted to adopt and are usually preferred over unmarried individuals. One area of real progress has been the requirement imposed upon companies to provide various employment benefits to unmarried couples.

Many companies have extremely liberal policies in this area…but all, understandably enough, wish to avoid any two people seeking to obtain the benefits who are not fully a couple and thus most companies have various requirements that are imposed. However, an unmarried couple will often have more trouble jointly obtaining automobile insurance covering an automobile owned by both partners.

Similarly, unmarried couples continue to face serious problems with respect to health insurance family coverage paid or co-paid by an employer. A minority of states continues to recognize common law, or informal, marriages. California does not, regardless of how long a couple have been cohabitating. Normally, common law marriage requires more than mere cohabitation between a man and a woman.

The couple generally must agree to enter into a martial arrangement, must cohabit with one another, and must hold themselves out as husband and wife to others. Parties that enter into such marriages enjoy the same rights as couples married in a formal ceremony, including rights related to insurance and other benefits, property distribution on dissolution of the marriage, and distribution of property upon the death of one spouse.

Proof that the marriage exists is often the most difficult aspect of a common law marriage, and this issue often arises after the relationship has ended either in death or divorce. Similarly, when a relationship ends, a partner may seek to prove that an informal marriage exists in order to seek property distribution under marital or community property laws.

Relatives of the deceased party often become extremely aggressive in seeking to avoid property going to the survivor. Though a minority of states recognizes common law marriages, all states will recognize the validity of a common law marriage if it is recognized in the state where the parties reside, agreed to be married, and hold themselves out as husband and wife. Common law marriages apply only to partners who are members of the opposite sex as of this writing but this may alter in the future. The benefit of either registering as domestic partners or entering into some type of written contract as to what occurs if death or parting of the ways occurs is particularly important for those feeling they are in a common law marriage relationship.

Unmarried cohabitants can provide rights to one another that are analogous to rights granted to married couples by entering into a contract or contracts with one another. Written cohabitation agreements usually involve financial and property arrangements. Contracts between unmarried cohabitants are valid if there is any consideration besides sexual relations. It is generally an enforceable contract. The validity of such agreements was the subject of the well-publicized case of Marvin v.

Marvin in the California Supreme Court. In this case, the court held that an express or implied agreement between a couple living together outside wedlock to share income in consideration of companionship could be legally enforceable. The majority of states now recognizes these agreements, though many require that the agreement be in writing.

A small number of recent cases have held that contracts between unmarried cohabitants are unenforceable. Be sure to check the current law in your state. When an agreement expressly includes consideration of sexual services provided by one of the parties, a court is more likely to find the contract unenforceable. Proving an oral agreement or an implied contract between unmarried cohabitants is also difficult, and several courts have refused to recognize such an agreement due to lack of proof.

It is always better to have a fully written executed agreement with independent counsel advising each party if possible. Nothing prevents unmarried cohabitants from leaving estate property to the other partner upon death in a will. Alternatively, intestate succession laws may not provide that any of the property will pass from one cohabitant to another, since intestacy laws are limited to marital and other family relationships. Another complicated situation can arise if one cohabitant is disabled and requires a guardian. To ensure that one partner is named guardian or is otherwise able to make decisions for the other partner, the parties can prepare a document providing durable power of attorney to the other partner.

Under this arrangement, the person granted durable power of attorney could make healthcare decisions for the disabled person. Durable powers of attorney can also be created for financial decisions. Similarly, a party can draft a living will also called a healthcare directive that dictates the wishes of the party regarding life-prolonging treatments and other medical care. It may be noted that once one creates the appropriate documents via contract, durable powers of attorney and estate planning, one can duplicate much but not all of the rights granted to married couples, but failure to do so leave the couple relatively unprotected.


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Actually, even married couples should create many of the same documents to ensure that their interests are protected, including estate planning , trusts , durable powers of attorney , and often prenuptial agreements. All these documents will make the difference between a smooth handling of potential problems and a period of instability, turmoil and possible conflict.

Even though California did away with common law marriage, couples who continuously live together may still have certain rights to property division and financial support as if they had been legally married. California Family Code Section provides, in part:. If a determination is made that a marriage is void or voidable and the court finds that either party or both parties believed in good faith that the marriage was valid, the court shall declare the party or parties, who believed in good faith that the marriage was valid, to have the status of a putative spouse.

This means the couple went through the motions to get married, yet something unsuspected made the marriage invalid or void. These same principles can be applied to couples who are in an unregistered domestic partnership. They may also be entitled to spousal support once the relationship is terminated. Sometimes a couple who has been together for a long period have an agreement between themselves to treat assets like community property. In other situations, one of the parties may have promised lifetime support to the other party, even though both parties knew they were not married.

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Under California law, no one is legally entitled to support or property rights if they are not married. There can, however, be rights created under an oral or written agreement between the parties. Disputes over these verbal contracts are filed in Civil Court and not in Family Court since it pertains to a breach of contract. These actions are very difficult to prove as the agreement is often verbal, making it next to impossible to enforce. Very often unmarried couples in California have a joint bank account, pay debts together, commingle their earnings, and even hold title to real or personal property together.

The way title to assets are held may muddy the waters considerably should the couple later separate.

Common Law Marriage Myths

The form of title could also have an unintended consequence should one of the parties unexpectedly pass away. Unmarried couples do not have the same legal rights as a married couple. Each party should give thoughtful consideration to the following questions:. Since common law marriage in California does not exist, couples who live together over a long period without getting married should consider a non-marital or cohabitation agreement. While we cannot give you legal advice, we can help you prepare an effective and comprehensive cohabitation agreement to hopefully prevent problems in the event you break up.

We can also prepare your estate planning documents to make sure your partner is protected in case of death. Contact us at today! We would love to know your thoughts on this article.

Common Law Marriage FAQs - FindLaw

During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties. She was in commo law relationship with her new partner, moved to Kentucky and then returned to California. If she leaves her common law partner, can the ex wife go back to the courts and seek alimony from her ex husband, which is now my partner?

She has means of income as she refused to work all her life. Marie met Mike 15 years ago lived with him he died two months ago trying to figure out how to help her he was a marine is there any assistance for her he was a veteran. I have been with my partner almost 22 yrs. He has always been the sole provider and he recently had my car repos and said that the next man should worry about my needs.

He controls everything in our household.

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