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Common Law Marriage in California: Yes or No?

If you're wondering whether you have a common law marriage in California, the answer might be "no." Learn more in this comprehensive guide.

evident Editorial Team
February 9, 2024
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The term "common law marriage in California" frequently arises in relationships and legal discussions, leading to numerous questions and misconceptions.

California, however, doesn't recognize common law marriage.

In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about California's stance on common law marriage.

Key Takeaways

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage stands apart from formal marriage in its formation.

Unlike a ceremonial marriage that requires a marriage license, a valid common law marriage is established when a couple resides together and presents themselves with a present intent as a married duo to their community, all without the official wedding certificate that comes with a legally recognized marriage.

Key elements typically characterizing a valid marriage based on common law include:

  • Cohabitation Agreement: The couple has resided together, often for an extended period.
  • Representation: Partners consistently introduce themselves as common law married to friends, family, and the public.
  • Intent: A mutual understanding and desire to be perceived as married.

Does California Recognize Common Law Marriage?

No, California law does not recognize common law marriages established within the state.

However, for federal income tax purposes and other legal matters, California recognizes common law marriages from other jurisdictions if they were established according to the laws of those few states or foreign countries.

This is true in others states as well like Michigan, PennsylvaniaNorth Carolina, Illinois, and Florida.

Texas, on the other hand, does recognize common law marriage.

Rights of Unmarried Couples in California

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Relationship and personal property rights are a significant concern for those not in a legal marriage. Unlike married couples, unmarried couples don't automatically share community property in California. The name on a property title typically determines ownership, but drafting a cohabitation agreement can provide clarity.

Medical decisions, child custody, and child support can also pose challenges for unmarried couples compared to legally married couples. While biological parents have inherent rights, establishing legal paternity is crucial. A durable power and medical power of attorney can be granted for making critical medical decisions for partners.

Common Myths about Common Law Marriage in California

Understanding common law marriage in California requires sifting through numerous misconceptions.

Below, we debunk some prevalent myths surrounding the topic:

The "Seven Years Rule"

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  • Myth: Living together for seven continuous years results in an automatic recognition of a common law marriage.
  • Reality: California does not recognize common law marriage, so the duration of cohabitation doesn't grant couples a common law marriage status.

Shared Finances Equals Marriage

  • Myth: If a couple has joint bank accounts, properties, or other financial assets, they are considered officially wed.
  • Reality: While joint financial decisions are significant for a relationship, they do not directly determine a couple's legal relationship status under California family law.

Common Law Marriage Certificate

  • Myth: Couples in a common law marriage can obtain a "common law marriage certificate."
  • Reality: California does recognize common law marriage and thus does not issue a common law marriage certificate.

By staying informed about these facts and distinguishing them from myths, couples can navigate their legal standing in California.

If you need further assistance, contact a family law attorney versed in California family law.

Same-Sex Marriages and Common Law in California

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California's journey with same-sex marriage has been a roller-coaster of legal battles, public opinion shifts, and political activism. The state's approach to same-sex marriage and common law marriages has evolved significantly over the years, reflecting broader changes in American society.

Historical Overview

  • 2000 - Proposition 22: In the year 2000, California voters approved Proposition 22, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This proposition effectively barred same-sex marriages in the state.
  • 2008 - California Supreme Court Ruling: In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This decision briefly legalized same-sex marriage, and thousands of couples tied the knot during this period.
  • 2008 - Proposition 8: However, the celebrations were short-lived. In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, which once again banned same-sex marriage. The proposition ignited a fierce debate and led to numerous legal challenges.
  • 2013 - U.S. Supreme Court Ruling: In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that proponents of Proposition 8 lacked the legal standing to appeal a lower court's decision that had declared the proposition unconstitutional. This ruling effectively allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.

Following the Supreme Court's decision, same-sex couples in California have the same fundamental rights as opposite-sex couples. This means that marriage in California grants couples equal rights, irrespective of their gender.

Here's What You Need to Know

  • Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages: California acknowledges same-sex marriages and gives these couples the same legal rights and status as opposite-sex couples.
  • Common Law Marriages for Same-Sex Couples: California does not recognize new common law marriages, regardless of whether the couple is same-sex or opposite-sex.

People Also Ask

How long do you have to live together for common law marriage in CA?

California doesn't recognize common law marriage, so there isn't a specified duration of cohabitation that automatically results in a common law marriage.

What is considered common law marriage in CA?

California common law marriage is not recognized. However, a couple with a common law marriage recognized in another state will be similarly recognized in California.

Is CA a common law property state?

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No, California is not a common law property state; it's a community property state. In the case of divorce, California family law courts will aim to divide assets equally. Spousal support (or alimony) and other financial arrangements may be included.

What is the benefit of common law marriage?

Common law marriage can offer a few benefits, including legal recognition, flexibility, economic advantages, and healthcare and decision rights.

Conclusion: Understanding Your Legal Standing in California

California's laws surrounding common law marriage are clear and established. While California does not recognize new common law marriages established within the state, it will recognize those from other jurisdictions.

Whether you're in a committed domestic partnership, considering cohabitation, or merely expanding your knowledge, it's essential to be informed about your legal rights and the state's regulations.

As the intricacies of family law can vary and change, seeking guidance from a qualified California family law attorney can offer clarity  can offer clarity and protection tailored to your specific situation.