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Common Law Marriage California

Common Law Marriage California

Common Law Marriage in California: A Comprehensive Guide


Common law marriage, a concept rooted in historical traditions, has been recognized in some states in the United States, but not in California. While California does not officially recognize common law marriages, it is crucial to understand the intricacies surrounding this topic. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the concept of common law marriage, its history, its legal status in California, and how it can affect individuals in various situations.

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage, often referred to as “marriage by habit and repute,” is a legal concept that recognizes a couple as married, even if they have not obtained a marriage license or held a formal ceremony. Instead, the couple is considered married because they have lived together, presented themselves as a married couple to the public, and held themselves out as spouses for a significant period.

The History of Common Law Marriage

The origins of common law marriage can be traced back to medieval England, where formal marriage ceremonies were not always common or easily accessible. Couples who cohabited and publicly presented themselves as married were often treated as legally married, especially when they had children together. This practice was later carried over to the American colonies and became a part of American legal tradition.

Common Law Marriage in Other States

It is essential to note that common law marriage is not recognized in all 50 states. Each state has its own set of laws and requirements regarding common law marriage. Some states, like Texas and Colorado, recognize common law marriages if specific criteria are met, while others, like California, do not recognize them at all.

California’s Stance on Common Law Marriage

California has a clear stance on common law marriage: it does not recognize it as a valid form of marriage. This means that couples in California must go through the formal process of obtaining a marriage license and having a legally recognized ceremony to be considered married in the eyes of the law.

The Myth of the “Seven-Year Rule”

There is a common misconception that couples who have lived together for seven years in California are automatically considered common law married. This is not true. The duration of cohabitation alone does not establish a common law marriage in California. The state’s position remains that a valid marriage requires a marriage license and a ceremony conducted by an authorized officiant.

Why Do Some People Believe They Are Common Law Married in California?

Despite California’s clear legal stance on common law marriage, some individuals may believe they are married under these circumstances due to a variety of reasons:

  1. Misinformation: People may have heard about common law marriage in other states and mistakenly assume it applies in California.
  1. Cultural Beliefs: In some cultures, cohabitation and public recognition of a relationship are seen as equivalent to marriage, leading to misunderstandings about legal status.
  1. Intent to Deceive: In rare cases, individuals may intentionally mislead others about their marital status for personal gain or to deceive creditors, employers, or government agencies.

Rights and Obligations of Unmarried Couples in California

Even though common law marriage is not recognized in California, unmarried couples who cohabit may still have certain rights and obligations. It’s important for couples in such situations to be aware of these:

  1. Property Rights: California recognizes the rights of unmarried couples to hold property together, and they can create cohabitation agreements or domestic partnership agreements to specify their rights and responsibilities.
  1. Child Custody and Support: Unmarried couples with children can establish legal paternity and custody arrangements through the family court system.
  1. Inheritance: If one partner dies without a will, the surviving partner may have inheritance rights based on California’s intestate succession laws.
  1. Healthcare Decisions: Unmarried partners may grant each other the authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf through medical powers of attorney.

Cohabitation Agreements in California

To protect their interests, unmarried couples in California can create cohabitation agreements, also known as “living together agreements.” These legal documents outline the financial and property arrangements between partners, addressing issues such as property division, support, and debt allocation in the event of a separation. Cohabitation agreements can provide clarity and security to couples who choose not to marry.

Domestic Partnership in California

While common law marriage is not recognized, California does offer the option of domestic partnership. Domestic partnerships are available to same-sex couples, opposite-sex couples, and certain senior citizens. Domestic partners enjoy some of the legal rights and responsibilities of married couples, including healthcare decision-making, inheritance, and community property rights.


Common law marriage, although not recognized in California, remains a topic of confusion and misunderstanding for many individuals. It’s essential for Californians to be aware of the state’s stance on this issue and the legal alternatives available to protect their rights and interests when choosing not to marry formally. Whether through cohabitation agreements or domestic partnerships, couples in California have options for establishing legal protections that can mirror some of the rights and responsibilities associated with marriage. Ultimately, understanding the legal landscape is key to making informed decisions about relationships and family matters in the state of California.

A Quick Guide to Common Law Marriage in California

Does CA Recognize Common Law Marriage Laws?

In order to answer such a question about a common-law marriage in California, it’s essential to know marriage requirements in the state.

The state recognizes domestic partnerships and legal marriage, and the requirements for such procedures are normally similar.

Marriage requirements include the following qualifications:

• Not within another marriage

• Two parties are together at the time of marriage, not by proxy

• A valid picture identification brought to the County Clerk’s Office

• Provide a specific date any former marriages ended, and some marriage requirements in certain counties involve presenting a copy of the final judgment

• Marry within 90 days of a marriage license being issued

• Have the marriage ceremony operated by the County Clerk or valid official according to county marriage requirements listed at the following website.

The marriage requirements listed above do not apply to a common-law marriage in California because such unions do not exist in California.

However, according to certain common law marriage laws and cases in the past, certain counties in California will recognize common-law marriage.

California does not require standard marriage requirements for such a union, and in fact, recognition of a common-law marriage in CA is usually reached through a loophole.

Common-Law Marriage “Laws” in California

Although there are no official common law marriage laws in CA, there are two ways a couple can have the state recognize the marriage:

Signing a power of attorney papers while in the relationship or contracting the common law matrimony in a state and district that recognized such a union.

In order to validate the common law marriage in California, the court will consider several factors in certain cases like a divorce or separation proceeding.

The common law marriage laws, or factors, include, the following:

• The two parties actually cohabitated in an out of state jurisdiction

• The of state jurisdiction had established common law marriage requirements

• The date of actually declaring the specific type of marriage can be established by the court

• If no common law marriage laws exist within the other jurisdiction, the court must determine if taking a Marvin Action is appropriate in a “divorce” or separation proceeding

If two couples want the state of California to recognize their common law marriage in an out of state jurisdiction, the two couples are usually advised to form an agreement or Marvin Action before officially declaring the common law marriage.

Two couples will normally establish a durable power of attorney and medical power of attorney with the help of a qualified legal professional.

If two couples within a common-law marriage come to an agreement about the division of property in a future separation in an out of state jurisdiction, the state of California will normally recognize such agreements now because of Marvin v. Marvin as well.

Common-law marriage requirements state that no agreement can be meretricious, or in other words, based upon the promise of sexual relations.