There are only under 20 states that recognize common-law marriage.

My question is, in the other 30+ states, is there any legal effect caused by "common-law-like conditions"? In other words, if a couple lives in a way that would make them "common-law-married" in one of the 20 C-L-M states, but they live in one of the other 30+ states, which of the following two applies to them:

  • No legal implications at all


  • There is "gray area", where there are legal implications even though the two people aren't recognized as being common-law-married in their jurisdiction.

If it's absolutely necessary to narrow this down to be answerable due to being too broad, let's say jurisdiction is NY or NJ, and legal implications are ones that impact separation and attendant property division.

1 Answer 1


US States that do not recognize common-law marriage do not grant some lesser version of the rights of marriage to those who live together without marriage. I would add that, according to the Wikipedia article only seven states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Oklahoma) plus the District of Columbia still recognize common-law marriage, not anywhere close to 20. The same article notes that:

All U.S. jurisdictions recognize common-law marriages that were validly contracted in the originating jurisdiction, although the extent to which the U.S. Constitution requires interstate marriage recognition has not been fully articulated by the Supreme Court

However, there have been cases in which state courts have recognized contractual cohabitation agreements between persons living together in situations somewhat similar to marriage. Mostly these have been explicit, written contracts. In some cases implicit agreements have been found to be binding, although many courts have rejected such alleged agreements. In Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 C3d 660 the court wrote:

in the absence of an express agreement, courts may look to a variety of other remedies to divide property equitably.

However, in that case the court found that there was no enforceable agreement. See the Wikipedia article "Palimony in the United States" for some relevant cases. But many courts have not been receptive to such agreements, and the article states that "as of 2016, twenty-four states legally reject palimony."

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    The other relevant issue in a subset of common law marriages where there is a ceremonial marriage and an erroneous belief (possibly one sided) that a member of a couple is married is putative marriage.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 10, 2022 at 17:57

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