Guide to Common Law Marriage in Illinois
If you have been living with your partner for some time and have publicly referred to each other as spouses, you may wonder if you need to get a marriage license in order to be considered legally married in Illinois. This guide can help you understand the laws about common law marriage in IL. You'll learn when a common law marriage in Illinois is recognized by the state and when you will need to obtain a marriage license to get the benefits of marriage.
What is Common Law Marriage?
Common law marriage in IL started with the much older, unwritten (“common,” in an age where most people weren't literate) laws of England. In England, people could be considered married if they had lived together and “held themselves out” publicly as husband and wife. Many states adopted statutes dictating who could and could not be considered married by the common laws, and this is how Illinois law on common marriage in Illinois began. When a couple entered into a common law marriage in IL, they would be recognized legally as one another's spouses for probate purposes, and would have to obtain a divorce in order to permanently separate and remarry.
Does Common Law Marriage in Illinois Still Exist?
Like many states, Illinois banned common law marriage. The state was actually one of the earlier states to ban the practice—common law marriage in IL became outlawed in 1905. While couples who had entered into an existing common law marriage in Illinois still were considered married, no new common law marriages could be entered into in the state after this. Today, no couples are still left alive who married while common law marriage in IL was still legal.
What about Existing Common Law Marriages?
Not every state has banned common law marriage. While common law marriage in Illinois has been illegal for over a century, ten states and the District of Columbia still allow the practice today, including the neighboring state of Iowa. If you have been common law married in one of the states that still allows it, your marriage will be recognized by the state of Illinois even though initiating a common law marriage in IL is impossible. If your common law marriage is recognized in this way, you will have all the rights and responsibilities of a married couple to one another, and will need to file for divorce if you plan to split up.
For example, if you had cohabited in Iowa with your spouse for some time and publicly proclaimed yourselves to be married, you would be considered to be in a common law marriage there. If you then moved across state lines to Illinois, you would be able to have a common law marriage in Illinois. However, in order to have your common law marriage in IL recognized, you may want to consult with an attorney who can help you understand your options and explain the best way to convince the courts of your marriage for any legal purposes, including probate.