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Common Law Marriage Illinois: Is it legal?

Does Illinois recognize common law marriage? Read on for the answer to that question and info about the rights of unmarried couples in Illinois.

evident Editorial Team
February 9, 2024
Chicago, river

People in long-term relationships in Illinois sometimes wonder what legal rights they have and whether they might be common law married. But does Illinois recognize common law marriage?

In this article, we'll cover:

  • What is a common law marriage?
  • Does Illinois have common law marriage?
  • What rights do unmarried couples have in Illinois?
  • And more.

Let's begin by defining what a common law marriage is.

Key Takeaways

What is Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is when a couple holds themselves out to family and friends as married despite not getting legally married.

Some states recognize common law marriage, while others do not. And among the states that recognize common law marriages, the exact criteria to demonstrate that a couple meets the requirements for a valid common law marriage varies.

Typically, though, key elements to establishing a valid common law marriage exists include:

  • The partners consistently introduce themselves as being married to friends, family, and the public
  • The partners need to be legally eligible to marry (e.g. they are of a legal age and not already married)
  • There needs to be a mutual intent to be married

Despite many myths to the contrary, there is often no minimum number of years that unmarried couples must be together or cohabitate to establish a valid common law marriage. (And conversely, there is no particular amount of time that will allow an unmarried couple to be in a common law marriage if their state does not recognize common law marriages).

Couples in a valid common law marriage are entitled to many of the same rights as any legally married couple. For instance, benefits of common law marriages often include:

  • Inheritance rights when your spouse dies
  • A right to spousal support (commonly called alimony)
  • Property rights in the event of a divorce

But as with the legal requirements, remember that the specifics vary based on state law.

Does Illinois recognize common law marriage?

No, Illinois does not recognize common law marriages.

Illinois law does state that common law marriages validly established in another state will be recognized in Illinois. Practically speaking, though, Illinois is unlikely to recognize common law marriage absent clear and substantial evidence.

The only way for unmarried couples in Illinois to enjoy the same rights as married couples is simply to get married.

So, what are the rights of unmarried couples in Illinois? Despite the fact that Illinois does not recognize common law marriage, couples who are not legally married may still have other options or legal rights in the state.

Alternatives to Illinois Common Law Marriage: Cohabitation Agreements

contract, hand holding pen, cohabitation agreement

One alternative to common law marriage in Illinois is to draft a cohabitation agreement with your partner.

A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract between two adults who live together. It can establish the parties' rights and obligations on a variety of different topics, such as relating to property and finances. This can be particularly helpful for couples in a long-term relationship whose financial lives have become intertwined over time but do not have the same legal rights that accompany a legal marriage.

Be aware that there are limitations to cohabitation agreements, though. For instance, a cohabitation agreement cannot establish rights or obligations related to child custody or child support. Such issues will be determined by Illinois law, regardless of whether the parties try addressing them in their cohabitation agreement. Additionally, if an unmarried couple wants to establish rights for either partner to inherit property if the other partner passes, it would be wise to draft a will.

It may be worth speaking with an Illinois family law attorney if you have questions about what a cohabitation agreement can or cannot cover.

FAQs About Illinois Common Law Marriage

Does Illinois have common law marriage?

wedding, marriage, husband

No, Illinois does not recognize common law marriage. If an unmarried couple had a valid common law marriage in another state and moved to Illinois, Illinois law states that it recognizes those common law marriages.

But common law marriage is not legal in Illinois, regardless of how long a couple has been living together.

When did Illinois stop recognizing common law marriage?

Illinois stopped recognizing common law marriage in 1905. This is consistent with the trend across the country, as many states have stopped recognizing common law marriages over time.

That said, they are still valid in a minority of states. But Illinois is not one of them and has not been since 1905.

The Bottom Line

So, does Illinois have common law marriage? No, common law marriages are not legal in Illinois, though the state will recognize one if the couple had a common law marriage in a state that recognizes them.

Thus, the only way to get the same rights as a married couple is through a legal marriage with a marriage license and having someone "solemnize" the marriage. Otherwise, unmarried couples do not naturally have any property rights or inheritance rights relative to their partners.

Cohabitation agreements are one alternative to Illinois common law marriage and allow couples to establish rights and obligations to their property and finances, which often get intertwined over the course of a long-term relationship. But remember that a cohabitation agreement cannot establish inheritance rights, nor can it address issues of child support or child custody.

If you have questions about your rights, consider speaking with an Illinois family law attorney today.