Call us today


Common Law Marriage

Often, people ask if the State of California acknowledges common law marital unions. The answer to this question can be complicated since people ask this question for different reasons. To give a short, precise response, California doesn’t recognize common law unions. However, this answer doesn’t stop here. There are many more details you should know about these types of marriages in California. It will help you in case you get into a divorce or marriage to which these unions relate.

At Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we have a deep understanding of the California marriage statutes and what needs to be done for a marriage to be legal. We handle issues relating to statutory marriages, common law marriages, cohabitation, etc. If you want to understand any of these topics in detail, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Also, if you need help with how you can live in California while in a common law marriage, we are available to help.

The Definition of Common Law Marriage

When someone talks about marriage, we often imagine that it involves walking down the aisle, signing a marriage certificate, and holding a big ceremony. However, various States recognize a marriage between two individuals who only want to get married in a simple way and cohabitate. No marriage certificate is issued nor a wedding held. This form of union is what we call common law marriage.

In simple terms, a common law marital union is whereby two romantic partners stay together for a long time that the law considers them to be married. They don’t have to go through all those formalities of obtaining a marriage certificate or having a marriage ceremony.

Currently, only about eleven U.S States recognize this form of marriage. These States have different processes and criteria by which this kind of union is recognized. They treat common law unions as lawful marriages despite there not being the issuance of marriage licenses.

In these states, common law marital unions have equal status with other marriages. Similar rights and responsibilities apply, and similar laws apply too in case the union ends in legal separation or divorce. This means when this kind of union ends; couples have to undergo the legal divorce or separation proceedings to annul the relationship. Also, it means that issues to do with spousal support, child custody, and property division, work in the same manner as the other marriages.

Unfortunately, among the States that recognize a common law union, California is not one of them. Common law marriage was eliminated in California in 1985. Instead, marriage in the State of California is lawfully defined under Family Code 300. This law defines marriage as a personal relationship resulting from a civil agreement between two persons who are capable of consenting to make the agreement. However, according to this Family Code, consent alone doesn’t constitute a marriage. It has to be accompanied by the issuing of a marriage license as well as solemnization.

Where a common law marriage is recognized, couples usually have to cohabit for a specified period. Then, they would present themselves before the public as if they are married and express that they intend to get married. In other States, they will consider other factors as well in determining what common law marriages to declare as valid. They include whether or not you use your partner's last name or file joint taxes.

We have several similarities between statutory and common law marriages. For instance, in both marriages:

  • Parties consent freely to the union
  • The partners are of lawful age to get married or have consent from their parents to marry
  • No part is suffering from a disability that would prevent him or her from entering into a legal marriage.

There are also ways in which common law unions differ from statutory marriages. For instance, for common law marriages, a marriage certificate or license is not issued. Also, in these unions, no official ceremony takes place to solemnize the marriage. Another difference is that in common law marriages, the parties have to present themselves to the public as husband and wife. And lastly, in common law unions, the couples must be living together during the time in which that union takes place.

How California Can Recognize Common Law Marriages

As we said earlier, California doesn’t formally acknowledge common law marriages after they were abolished in 1985. But, this does not mean that we don’t have any couples in the State married through common law. In case you get married through common law in another state or country, the State of California may recognize that marriage as authentic if you relocate to the State. This could work even during divorce proceedings, but it may lead to a more complicated scenario.

However, keep in mind that common law marriages done in and acknowledged by another State or country aren’t automatically valid in case you relocate to California. The courts will scrutinize each case separately, on its merits, should these situations arise. These courts may or may not agree with the statutes of those other jurisdictions. A skilled family attorney by your side may help you to make sure your common law marriage is acknowledged in California. The recognition of your marriage also largely depends on your attorney and how he/she will present and argue your case in court.

Note that we have had several out-of-California common law unions being declared valid by the California court system. Also, note that this is not always the norm; these cases do not usually get acknowledged easily. It is you to fight smart and understand what it is you are doing. However, even if your common law union cannot be recognized under California law, it is not the end of it all. You still have ways you can employ to defend your rights during the union or if you want to get a legal separation or divorce. Consult your family law attorney on what steps you can take.

Out-of-California Common Law Unions Under California Statute

Generally, different U.S States are bound by their constitutions to acknowledge each other’s marital unions. However, this does not mean if you reside in the state of California, you can go to Iowa, get married through common law, then relocate to California soon after marriage and expect California to acknowledge it.

However, there are people who live in states that recognize common law unions and visit or do businesses in California. Others hold bank accounts or property in California. For these people, California will probably recognize their common law union.

If you reside in the state of California and you cohabit with your partner but aren’t lawfully married, this changes the spousal support and property situation. Most couples that are in a common law union in the state of California often assume they will claim their partner’s property once he/she dies. Others think they can make critical medical or financial decisions for their partners. But, this is not how it works because California doesn’t acknowledge common law unions.

The truth is, you may not receive any spousal support after divorce. Also, the division of property is worked out differently in these forms of marriages. Thus, you ought to consider having the power of attorney forms filled out and also writing a will. However, this will not change child custody, visitation rights, or child support issues in any way. You do not need to be in a marital union to have and raise a child together. Therefore, the rights of the child aren’t canceled; neither is of the parent only because the couple isn’t lawfully married.

Putative Spouses’ Status Under California Law

We have certain cases where a California couple that was not lawfully married would still enjoy given financial rights after a divorce as though they were legally married. To start with, a situation of a putative spouse is created.  This happens when one or both parties had a reason for good faith to believe they were lawfully married, despite the marriage being proclaimed void.

In other situations, partners may have done all they could to fulfill the legal married requirements under California marriage law. However, the conditions are not fulfilled because certain legal technicalities were violated. In this case, the partners may be considered as though they had been lawfully married all through for several purposes.

One scenario happens when one party has a former marital union that he/she believed was lawfully dissolved. Then it's revealed the divorce wasn't correctly finalized. This may be unnoticed for quite a long period if the partners resided in another state, and the mistake made not to finalize the divorce was a minor one. And, in case the past divorce wasn’t final, the new union couldn’t be valid because polygamy is illegal in the U.S.

Fighting for a Putative Spouse Status

There are several circumstances, in & out of divorce, whereby acquiring the status of a putative spouse can be problematic. For instance, two persons who believed they had entered a marriage long ago when they legally had not, may want to have the issue resolved. In this case, achieving the status of a putative spouse for these partners may happen by them getting ‘remarried.’ This is so they can make the marriage authentic.

Or, in the case of a divorce, procedural problems at the start of the marital union might be discovered. This may result in the denial of the rights to property division and spousal support. Though, the partner who receives spousal support once the divorce is finalized may fight to acquire the status of a putative spouse. However, you cannot merely say that you thought you were legally married then stop at that. Your assertions have to be proven. This is where you will need an experienced family law attorney to help you establish this. 

Additionally, you may have a post or pre-nuptial, and then you realize your marital union wasn't legal. In this case, you will have to be a putative spouse. Then, you and your spouse will get remarried and have the nuptial agreements reinstated.

Without the status of a putative spouse or an authentic marriage, alimony and community property laws will not apply. Therefore, if there is an issue with your marriage, you may need to have it rectified without further delay. Attorneys at the Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer may help you solve the problem.

Palimony As Per California Law

Full spousal support (alimony) doesn’t apply in case you and your partner were never lawfully married. However, there is a chance of getting restricted support. The limited support is what we refer to as palimony. You will get palimony in case you and your partner have cohabited together long enough and meet other specific requirements.

Palimony in California is also referred to as Marvin’s support since it was established after the case of Marvin vs. Marvin. The subjects of this case were Michelle Marvin and Lee Marvin. Michelle Marvin was suing Lee Marvin for half of his estate and support after their break up (though they had never been legally married).

The California Supreme Court ruled that if the parties had an implied contract to share property and income like in an authentic marriage, she could get what she wanted. However, Michelle Marvin failed to prove they had an implied agreement between them, so she lost her case.  However, this does not mean that other people who are in a similar situation like Michelle can never or have never proven to have an implied agreement.

Generally, to win in a Marvin lawsuit, you will need to show that you and your partner had an implied understanding or agreement. The agreement has to spell out that you will share your earnings and property. If not, it has to state that that one of you will provide monetary support to the other in case of separation. You can prove this through these two ways:

  • An action for breach of a written contract

In case you and your partner have a legal written contract to provide support or share property, then that agreement controls the results of your case. Another cause of action would be for you two to identify specific items to share and the amounts for support and property division. If you cannot agree on these aspects, you can hire financial experts or attorneys to help you agree. If there are any issues with your contract, a judge will decide on these problems in a court.

  • An action for an implied agreement

Implied contracts are much more difficult to prove compared to written agreements. An implied agreement for support or property division should be created by considering yours and your partner’s conduct. For instance, did the two of you behave in a manner to prove you agreed to share your property and earnings? Did one of you provide support to the other through your entire relationship? Did the party promise the support would continue after the breakup or after the party providing support died? When establishing answers to these questions, judges consider a wide range of evidence. The proof includes:

  • Reasons for the parties not getting married- For instance, did they want to evade community property rights
  • Credit practices- the judge will look at if you used joint credit cards and, if so, which party paid off these cards. The judge would also want to know if you applied for loans together and accumulated debts jointly or individually
  • Banking practices-separate versus joint checking and savings
  • Did you pool your finances together to buy property?
  • Did you take the title separately or together?

Also, judges will want to know whether your marriage-like union was stable, where you were staying together, and whether you acted like mutual companions.

One of the ways you can prevent a Marvin suit is for you and your partner to have a Living Together Agreement. This contract is the same as a prenuptial agreement, which decides what happens to the assets you acquire in the course of your relationship if you split. It also dictates whether either of you can demand financial support in case you separate.

If you win a Marvin support, you can receive a specified sum of palimony for support, even if there was no legal marriage in existence.


Note that you may seek to annul your union instead of going through a divorce. This is especially in case you and your partner believed you were legally married when, in reality, you were not. However, when an annulment happens instead of divorce, you will forfeit your community property and alimony rights. If your party willingly agrees to share the property or provide support in a particular way, that’s fine. However, this doesn’t necessarily happen.                         

Find a Marriage Law Attorney Near Me

The aspects of California marriage law can be complicated for a layman. It can be quite challenging in trying to understand all the features of this law, and the dos and don’ts. Experienced attorneys from the Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer are available to help you through any aspect you seem not to understand. In case you have any concerns or questions concerning marriage laws in Los Angeles, please contact us at 310-695-5212 for consultations.



Contact Us Today

Icon Hour

Hours of Operation

Mon-Fri: 8am-8am

Saturday: 8am-8am

Sunday: 8am-8am

Contact us today by calling 310-695-5212

We will give you a free, no-obligation consultation and can give immediate attention to your family law legal needs.

Jn Popup

Call Us Today

Contact us to schedule a free consultation on your divorce case


Contact Us

Contact Us