is-common-lawIf you’ve been married to someone for seven years, are you considered Common Law married? Most people reflexively answer “yes” to that question, but the reality is quite a bit more complicated than you might realize.

Common Law marriage has its roots in English Common Law. At one time, it was widely recognized, but over the years, more and more states have stopped acknowledging it altogether. These days, only the following states still recognize Common Law marriage:

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

The state of New Hampshire recognizes Common Law marriages, but only for the purposes of inheritance. If you don’t live in one of those states, then no matter how long you live together, until and unless you have a ceremony or go before a Justice of the Peace, you’re not married.

Even if you live in a state that recognizes Common Law marriage, no state has a predefined minimum time threshold, so the seven-year meme is a complete myth. The following are the standards you must meet in order to be considered Common Law spouses:

• You must be a heterosexual couple, living in a state that recognizes common law marriages. There is no provision for homosexual common law marriages, anywhere.
• You present yourselves to your local community as a married couple. The most common way this is done is using the same last name, referencing your partner as “my husband” or “my wife” to friends, neighbors and family members.
• You have lived together for a significant period of time. Exactly what “significant” means is, of course, subject to interpretation. Certainly, if you’ve lived together for seven to ten years, this would be deemed a sufficient amount of time, but there’s no law on the books in any state that specifies that time frame.

So, yes. Common Law marriage is a thing, but it is increasingly uncommon, and will likely become even more uncommon over time.