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Common Law Marriage Illinois

Common Law Marriage Illinois

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 allow 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.

Common Law Marriage in Illinois: An Overview

In Illinois, common law marriage is not recognized. This means that couples who live together and present themselves as married are not considered legally married under any circumstances. However, there are some exceptions to this rule that are typically determined on a case-by-case basis.

The Origins of Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage originated in England during the Middle Ages. At the time, many people were unable to legally marry due to social and economic constraints. As a result, some couples would simply live together and eventually establish themselves as a common law marriage. This type of relationship allowed them to enjoy many of the legal benefits of marriage without having to go through the formal process of obtaining a marriage license.

Over time, common law marriage became less common in England as the legal requirements for marriage became less restrictive. However, the practice continued to thrive in the United States, particularly in states like Illinois where there were no specific laws against it.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is a relationship between two people who live together and present themselves as married, but who have not obtained a marriage license or been married in a civil or religious ceremony. The requirements for establishing a common law marriage vary from state to state, but typically include:

– Living together for a certain period of time (usually several years)
– Presenting themselves to others as a married couple
– Intending to be married and considering themselves to be married

In some states, a common law marriage is automatically recognized if these requirements are met. However, in Illinois, there is no legal recognition of common law marriage.

Exceptions to the Rule

While common law marriage is not recognized in Illinois, there are some situations where couples may be considered legally married even if they have not obtained a marriage license. These include:

Entering into a common law marriage in another state: If a couple meets the requirements of a common law marriage in a state where it is recognized and later moves to Illinois, their marriage may be recognized under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Informal marriage: In some cases, a couple may be considered informally married if they have exchanged vows in front of witnesses or have lived together as if they were married for a specific period of time. However, this is a difficult claim to make and must be proven in court.

Presumption of marriage: Under Illinois law, a couple may be considered married if they have lived together for at least seven years and have presented themselves as married during that time. This presumption may be rebutted with evidence to the contrary.

Legal Protections for Unmarried Couples

Even if a couple is not legally married, they may still have legal protections and rights under Illinois law. These include:

Cohabitation agreements: Unmarried couples can enter into a written agreement that outlines their rights and responsibilities as cohabitants. This can include provisions for property ownership, financial support, and other issues.

Domestic Violence Protections: Victims of domestic violence can obtain protection orders from the court, regardless of their marital status.

Inheritance: If one partner dies without a will, the surviving partner may be entitled to inherit their property under Illinois intestacy laws.

Parental rights: Unmarried fathers may be able to establish paternity and obtain custody or visitation rights under Illinois law.


While common law marriage is not recognized in Illinois, couples who live together and present themselves as married may still have legal protections and rights. It is important for unmarried couples to understand their legal status and to take steps to protect themselves and their assets. If you are in a cohabiting relationship and have additional questions about your legal standing, it’s always best to consult with a qualified attorney who can provide guidance based on your specific circumstances.