What Conditions Must be Met to Have a Valid Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is a relationship that has all of the attributes of a conventional legal marriage, but has not been formalized with a marriage license or ceremony. A valid common law marriage confers all of the rights, benefits and responsibilities of a conventional marriage on both parties. Those in a common law marriage are treated like any other married couple with respect to taxation, inheritance, financial obligations and healthcare decision-making authority.

In the State of Utah, for a common law marriage to be valid, there must be a court order or administrative order finding that the following requirements are met:

  • Age — Each party must be of legal age to enter into a conventional marriage.
  • Capacity — If an adult has been adjudged mentally incapable, then he or she would lack the capacity necessary for a common law marriage.
  • Cohabitation — The couple must have cohabitated at some point during the relationship. However, the law does not stipulate a minimum amount of time living together to qualify for a common law marriage.
  • Assumption — The parties must commit to one another and mutually assume the duties, obligations and rights of marriage to the exclusion of all others.
  • Reputation — The couple must consistently hold themselves out to the public as married and must have acquired a reputation as husband and wife.

If you meet these requirements, you can ask a court to validate your marriage. The court will then issue a decree that recognizes your union.

A common myth is that two people must be together for seven years or more to qualify for a common law marriage. While the length of the relationship is relevant, Utah’s statute does not have a minimum requirement to establish a common law marriage. Instead, each party’s intent and behavior are paramount. A court may consider and weigh any evidence for the purposes of determining whether a relationship can be deemed a common law marriage.

Even if the couple breaks up, the former relationship can still be ruled a common law marriage. A party has up to one year after the relationship ends to petition for recognition of a previous common law marriage. While there is no common law divorce, a court can order property distribution just like in a conventional marriage.

Attorney Victoria Cramer practices divorce and family law throughout the greater Salt Lake City area. If you have a common law marriage issue, feel free to contact us online or call 801-299-9999 for an initial consultation.