What is a common law marriage and how is it different from legal marriage?

When it comes to understanding common law marriages, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. You may have heard that a couple living together for 7 years or longer are automatically common law spouses. This is a false statement as common law marriage regulations are determined per state.

In fact, only 15 states recognize a common-law union, and Massachusetts isn’t one of them. Simply put, a common law marriage is one obtained purely through the conduct and relationship of the couple. Common law marriage does not require that the couple have a ceremony led by a justice of the peace, or that they obtain a marriage license. A common law family is a couple living together in a common law marriage situation with children.

States may choose to recognize common law marriages for various reasons, such as ensuring that no one is excluded from marriage for financial reasons or the belief that people should have the option to marry without government involvement. Criteria for a common law marriage is determined per state; however, all states require that the couple have the intent to be married.

While the state of Massachusetts does not recognize common law marriage, there are some exceptions. For example, families moving to Massachusetts from a state where common law marriage is recognized and meet the criteria for a common law marriage will be treated for all purposes as a legally married couple by the state of Massachusetts. The Full Faith and Credit Clause (Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution) requires Massachusetts to honor the marriage laws of sister states.

Give our office a call for additional information regarding Massachusetts common marriage laws