Common-Law Marriage

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You know how everyone has that one little thing that bugs them — an issue or a topic or something that they know a bit more about than the average person? Common law Marriage is one of mine.

I suppose it makes sense, in some weird way, that it’d be one of the few things that still annoys me. The average person knows more about Dwarf Blue Sheep than they do about common law Marriage. If they’d just have the fucking sense to not talk about it the way they don’t talk about the Dwarf Blue Sheep, though….

I guess that’s my real issue — that people talk about shit they barely know. The fact that you know the phrase ‘common law Marriage’ does not make you an expert. And I doubt that you know someone it happened to any more than you know someone who was related to someone who went to the hospital with roach-infested tonsils after eating at Taco Bell. Because that shit didn’t happen. You don’t accidentally get married anywhere — except, maybe, Las Vegas. And getting so drunk you don’t know what you’re doing, and waking up married to someone you don’t know is not ‘common law’. Because Nevada isn’t on the list.

What list? Why, the list of states that allow common law marriages. And, hey, here it is:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah

Now, before you try to claim that the list is incomplete — it’s not. It’s just a list of states that currently [as far as I know] allow for the formation of common law marriages. In Georgia, it’s only valid if it was formed prior to January 1st, 1997; Idaho, 1996; Ohio prior to October 10th; Pennsylvania before 2005. Oklahoma’s got some legal conflicts that make it unclear as to whether or not a common law marriage can be legally formed after November 1st, 1998, and New Hampshire allows them, but only for inheritance purposes.

So that’s…what, ten states? Out of fifty. Sure, ten states that people have been known to live in — and with other people, even, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got anything to worry about. Or that I’ve got anything to worry about.

You might be wondering why this bugs me so much. Since you’re actually putting up with this, I guess I owe you an explanation. Okay….

Surprising as it may be, this actually has very little to do with the-ex-that-tried-to-sue-for-divorce, except that she’s part of the problem — the problem being the ignorant fucking masses. It’s surprising how many people think that living together for six months makes you married. Or, hell, seven years. Because seven, it’s a powerfully magical number, innit? Where the fuck did that idea come from?

I should’ve posted about this a year ago, or whenever it was when I figured out that I’d been living with Gremlin for seven years, because that’s what started all this again. A bunch of people who did more talking than reading assuring me that seven years means married. No, it doesn’t. Not seven years, not six or a dozen or two decades, either. It doesn’t work that way. There is no magic number defined by any of those states [that I’m currently aware of] that instantly turns two people into husband and wife.

That’s not to say there aren’t requirements, because there are. The short version is that the couple have to represent themselves as husband and wife, and have a reputation in the community as husband and wife. It also helps if they agree to it, and intend to be legally married at some point in the future. There’s also occasionally mention of ‘cohabitation’ and ‘consummation’, which, I suppose, makes sense. Living together and having sex are something that married people sometimes do. And, hey, maybe I can see where some people might think that gaining a reputation as ‘married’ might be easy, if a bunch of people see you living together, assume you’re having sex, and jump directly to ‘married’ because they can’t allow themselves to think otherwise. But…it’s still not that easy. It’s not that…accidental.

Because people don’t accidentally file joint tax returns, or tell their employers, their insurance companies, and everyone else that they’ve got this spouse when they don’t. Except, I suppose, they sometimes do. And they probably get caught. Because, in some states, that’s less ‘common law’ and more ‘fraud’. So, just don’t do it.

I’d like to say more on the subject, but it seems that I have stuff to do. I’ll try to get a little less opinioney and a little more referencey later….

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3 thoughts on “Common-Law Marriage

  1. This again? Well, lucky for you that since I’ve had so very many dealings with domestic law, I happen to have Colorado Revised Statutes bookmarked. I tried to find a definitive description of what constitutes a common law marriage, but I couldn’t. Which kind of irks me, but beyond the idea that maybe I’m just blind, if they really didn’t define it much then what the fuck? That could get really ugly, y’know?

    Anywho, here’s the link. it’s under Colorado Revised Statutes, Domestic Matters, (14 – whatever – whatever).
    http://www.michie.com/colorado/lpext.dll?f=templates&fn=main-h.htm&cp=

    I have no idea if that’s going to hyperlink automatically or not.

    Enjoi!

    • Yeah, this again. And it’s good to know that you’ve got the same problem I’ve got [regarding that one reference link]. I planned on digging a little deeper when I was writing this, but stuff got in the way. I’ve already done a bit of digging into the laws in other states, and found some rather entertaining court cases in…I think it was Alabama. They were…the word stupid doesn’t cover it. It went something like: boy meets girl, falls in love, marries, and reproduces with her. Boy and Girl fall out of love, divorce but get back together. Somewhere in there, they bought a house as husband and wife, and continued to pay the bills as husband and wife, even after the divorce. Also, they continued to live together and sleep together — in that adult sort of way. So, naturally — and it must’ve been Alabama — they ran afoul of the common law marriage thing.

      I think I’ll do more digging today if this idea I woke up with dies the usual horrible death….

  2. The whole thing is just so silly. I’ve known people who had to deal with it, and it’s always been an idiotic process. I’m starting to think the lack of definitive legislation is exactly why. That resource is exactly what you will get to if you go through the self-help stuff on the Colorado courts website. So, you know, I’m relatively sure it should be all in there and up to date. I suppose you could look for legal precedent since that’s half of how most court cases are resolved if they aren’t totally obvious as being stupid in the first place.

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