Common-law marriage is simply a marriage without a formal ceremony, but the couple enjoys the same rights and assumes the same responsibilities as a couple who participated in a traditional ceremony.
In the past, common-law marriages were widespread and recognized by all the states. Couples only needed to live together for a specific amount of time, have sexual relations and hold themselves out as husband and wife. Today however, only one-fourth of the States still recognize common-law marriages and those that do have strict requirements before such a union will be recognized.
While living together is still expected, it is no longer the main requirement . The couples must both be of the age and mental capacity to consent to such a union and they must behave and present themselves as married in every way. Filing tax returns together and adding your common-law spouse to your health insurance are two good examples of things common-law partners should do to “formalize” their marriage.
Other ways to document your common-law marriage include large joint purchases such as a house or car, insurance documents naming each other as the beneficiary and joint checking and credit card accounts.
Once a common-law marriage is recognized by the state, it is as binding as a traditional marriage and will require a divorce to dissolve it. Standard propertydistribution laws would apply and alimony could also be imposed. It is important to note that, in the states which do recognize common law marriage, it is not available to same sex couples.