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Does Louisiana have common law marriage?

Couples in long-term relationships might wonder if there is common law marriage in Louisiana. The answer is usually no, with limited exceptions.

evident Editorial Team
published
February 12, 2024
Louisiana, New Orleans

Couples in long-term relationships in Louisiana sometimes wonder what legal rights they have and whether they are common law married. But is common law marriage recognized in Louisiana?

This article will cover:

  • What a common law marriage is
  • Whether Louisiana recognizes common law marriage
  • What rights unmarried couples have in Louisiana
  • And more.

Let's start by defining what common law marriage means.

Key Takeaways

What is a Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is when a couple does not legally marry but is still treated as a married couple under the law due to meeting other criteria.

A minority of states recognize common law marriage while most do not, and the precise requirements for a valid common law marriage vary state by state among the states that do recognize common law marriage.

Overall, though, common elements necessary for establishing a common law marriage include:

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

Despite misconceptions to the contrary, there is usually no minimum number of years that unmarried couples must live together to establish a valid common law marriage. (And likewise, there is no amount of time spent living together that can create a common law marriage in a state where it is not recognized).

Why does the distinction matter? Because marriage is a legal union and brings certain benefits not afforded to unmarried couples. Common law spouses, though, get many of the same rights as a legally married couple. For example, benefits of common law marriages may include:

  • The right to inherit property when your spouse dies
  • A right to spousal support (or alimony)
  • The right to a share of marital property in a divorce

Remember, though, that the specifics often vary under state law.

Does Louisiana recognize common law marriage?

No, Louisiana does not recognize common law marriages within the state, regardless of how long a couple may have been living together. The best way for unmarried couples in Louisiana to enjoy the same rights as married couples is to get married.

That said, Louisiana does recognize common law marriages established in a state where such unions are legal. For this to apply, though, the couple must have moved from a state where common law marriage is recognized and have established their common law marriage prior to moving to Louisiana. If a couple meets this criteria and can prove it, then they can be considered married by Louisiana courts.

Generally, though, Louisiana common law marriage does not exist and partners will not be considered married even if they have lived together for a long time or hold themselves out as being married.

Property Rights for Unmarried Couples

real estate, homeownership, property rights

So, in the absence of common law marriage, what are the property rights of unmarried couples in Louisiana? Do they have community property rights similar to a married couple?

No, unmarried couples in Louisiana typically do not have any community property rights in the absence of a legal marriage. Community property refers to property that a married couple acquires during the course of their marriage. The distinction matters because each spouse has a 50/50 interest in community property in the event of a divorce.

Common examples of community property might include a home purchased after a couple gets married, income earned during the marriage, and most other forms of property the couple acquires with limited exceptions (such as inheritances or gifts, plus each spouse's separate property before the marriage).

But under Louisiana law, unmarried couples do not have community property rights, regardless of how long they have been together. A couple could sign a cohabitation agreement, which is a type of civil contract, if they choose. Doing so could make sense, especially if you or your partner have significant assets. But in the event of a separation, unmarried couples in Louisiana generally do not have community property rights should they ever divide property since there is no common law marriage in Louisiana.

That said, as noted above, the couple could be entitled to community property rights if they can show they were considered legally married under a common law marriage in the state where they previously lived.

Inheritance Rights of Unmarried Couples

Another key consequence of marriage is the right to inherit property from one's spouse. In states where common law marriage is recognized, a person could inherit from their common law spouse. And if you can show you were common law married before moving to Louisiana, a Louisiana court may well allow you to inherit from your spouse.

But generally speaking, unmarried couples do not have a right to inherit property from their partners unless they execute a will. Absent a will, a deceased person's property will usually go through probate and be subject to the laws of intestacy (which is just legalese for the state laws that dictate who someone's property and assets go to when they pass).

If you and your partner want to ensure inheritance rights, it would be wise to draft a will, which is not as expensive as you might think.

FAQs About Louisiana Common Law Marriage

Is there still common law marriage in Louisiana?

No, like the majority of states, Louisiana does not recognize common law marriages between unmarried couples within the state. For Louisiana couples, the best way to get the rights that accompany marriage is to get legally married (i.e. marriage ceremony, marriage license, etc.).

Louisiana will recognize a valid common law marriage if it was established in a state that still allows them and the couple subsequently moved to Louisiana. But generally speaking, no, a Louisiana common law marriage is not an option for unmarried couples in the state.

wedding, marriage, husband

Does Louisiana recognize domestic partnerships?

Louisiana only recognizes domestic partnerships in limited situations. Specifically, the city of New Orleans recognizes domestic partnerships if the partners reside within New Orleans or at least one partner is a city employee.

The prevalence of domestic partnerships has decreased, though, ever since the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

How to prove common law marriage in Louisiana

Given that Louisiana does not recognize common law marriages within the state, the only way to prove a common law marriage in Louisiana is to prove that a couple was common law married before moving to Louisiana. This means the couple needs to have lived in a state where common law marriages are still legal, and the couple needs to have met the legal requirements of that state.

The specific requirements to be common law married vary state by state but typically include: (1) the couple holds themselves out as being married to others; (2) they share an intent to be married; and (3) they are legally capable of marrying (e.g. they're not already married).

Thus, the couple would need to prove that they met these elements in the state where they resided to have a common law marriage in Louisiana. Note that this is one general drawback compared to a formal marriage, for which a spouse could simply show a marriage certificate to demonstrate they are married.

The Bottom Line

So, is common law marriage allowed in Louisiana? Generally no, unless a couple can prove that they were common law spouses when they moved to the state. Otherwise, though, common law marriage is not recognized in Louisiana regardless of how long a couple has been in a relationship or cohabitated.

The best way to get the legal rights that accompany marriage is to get officially married. Otherwise, Louisiana courts do not give unmarried couples any property rights or inheritance rights with respect to their partners.

Cohabitation agreements are another option that allow couples to clarify rights and obligations regarding their property and finances. But these agreements cannot establish inheritance rights or address issues such as child support or child custody.

If you have questions about your situation, consider speaking with a Louisiana family law attorney today.