What is the difference between traditional marriage and common law marriage?

In some countries, a marriage ceremony is necessary before a couple can call themselves legally married in the traditional sense. It is different in the United States, as most states do not require this formality. The main requirements for a traditional marriage are that you be no less than 18 years old; sign a certificate of marriage in the presence of a minister, judge, or another authorized person; and obtain a marriage license from the state. These requirements apply in all 50 states, with only slight differences here and there.

However, it is not always quite as simple as that. Not all states recognize common law marriages. The states that recognize common law marriage today are Colorado, Alabama, District of Columbia, Idaho, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Although most states do not recognize same-sex marriages in common law, this has started to change after the federal government legalized same-sex marriages in 2015.

To prove the existence of a common law marriage in the states that permit it, you need to provide evidence that you have lived together for a certain length of time, which is usually two or three years. On top of this, there is other evidence that you may need to provide, such as sharing the same surname, referring in public to each other as husband or wife, sharing bank accounts and other financial commitments, and filing joint taxation returns.

You may also need to show that you naturally formed a relationship that is equivalent to being married. If you need to provide evidence of your common law marriage, you and your partner can sign affidavits swearing that you consider yourselves married. You can also obtain similar affidavits from friends, family members, and others that can attest to you being married. Additionally, you can use any other documents you have that tend to show that you are married, including jointly owned property deeds, bank statements, credit card accounts, birth certificates of your mutual children, employment agreements, insurance policies, and mail addressed to you both in your shared last name. This can only be done in a state that approves of common law marriage. Often, you will need this affidavit when applying for a foreign visa or if you lose your marriage certificate.

Even though not all states offer the status of a common law marriage, if you have gone through the process of confirming this in a state that does accept it, all other states, whether they legally approve of common law marriage or not, have to accept your status. Once you have completed the common law marriage process you will be given the same rights and obligations as people who are traditionally married.

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