What is the legal definition of a common -law wife?

What is the legal definition of a common -law wife?

I look forward to your feedback.

I lookined into this a few years back and in chicago IL they dont reconize common law marriage

In the UK it is a meaningless concept. That’s not to say that unmarried partners have no rights at all, but unlike their married contemporaries, in the event of a break-up, their situation is much more complicated.

In the USA, only certain states have Common Law Marriage. Texas is one. I hate to be obvious, but Wikipedia has summaries of the requirements–which vary, state by state.

I’ve seen the phrase used, sometimes in other countries, as an informal description of a cohabiting couple. Which is sloppy language. Especially now that living together outside marriage is more common…

In US, if you’re married, you’re married - with the exception of same sex couples (for now at least). Same sex couples aside - and other factors like age, etc…

Common law marriage speaks to how the marriage is formed. In states which do not allow common law marriages, one generally (laws vary by state) has to apply for a license, maybe take a blood test, and have the marriage solemnized/confirmed by a member of the clergy or a gov’t official.

In common law states, no license or ceremony is required. But once that marriage is “formed,” that couple is legally married the same as anyone else and that marriage exists until that couple files divorce.

As usual, laws very by state. But one common thread with most common law marriage formations is that both parties must agree that they are married. Anecdotal stories about - “I had to move out of my girlfriend’s apartment for a month otherwise we would be common law married” aren’t accurate.

If I remember Ohio’s case law correctly, but it has been YEARS since I looked it up, the couple had to be “held out/known to the public”, etc., as man/wife for 7 years living together.

Ohio however has abrogated common law marriage since 1991, emphasis added.

Unfortunately, that is how it is in Canada. We have marriage under statute law (marriage licence, official, etc.), we have common law marriage (albeit it is extremely rarely – pretty much only found these days among elders in very remote traditional aboriginal communities), and we have spouses who cohabit in a serious conjugal relationship that is usually called “common law” (even by a lot of judges), but is not a marriage in law.

The difference between true marriage (be it common law or statute law) and the casual term “common law” when referring to non-married couples is significant in some jurisdictions in Canada. For example, in Ontario, if a married couple separates, there is a clear formula on how to split the value of the parties’ property and debts, whereas there is no such formula for non-married couples who separate.

It’s a pity that in Canada we don’t have a politically correct term to describe a relationship in which the parties are for all intents and purposes married, despite not being married in either statute or common law.

Years ago friends of mine broke up over this. Sunday evening a bunch of people were talking at their apartment. She mentioned that their 7 year anniversary was coming up and they’d be common law married. She was joking. The next day she came home from work and dialed 911 to report a burglary. When the cops came and cleared the place, she returned and realized only “his” stuff was missing. Haven’t seen/heard from him since.

Varies by state, and varis over time.

The original purpose of the legal concept was to hold a person legally responsible for entering into an arrangement that was equivalent to marriage in practice. It was retroactive, in that the law could construct a case of present status based on prior conduct.

In some southern states, common law marriage could exist as early as a year or two. I recall Lee Marvin’s famous quote, “How do I get rid of this broad?”

By contrast, in Saskatchewan, once the couple has been living together for two years, or have had a child together, their rights to property upon break-up are exactly the same as for married couples; the same statute governs both situations, with the same rules.

I look forward to the ROC taking this sort of approach – opt out via domestic contract rather than opt in via domestic contract. I see far too many non-married spouses get severely burned because what they thought the law was, wasn’t.

I believe you are correct - since October 1991, if memory serves. If you’re still together after 23+ years, just get married, for pete’s sake!

Well, most states have some sort of vague language like “widely seen to be man and wife” or some such without specifically spelling out what sorts of actions would cause a couple to be seen as such. There’s things that are fairly clear, like filing federal taxes jointly, but pretty much anything short of that is a grey area. I don’t know if some of the other states have it nailed down a little better in the courts, but in my state family law attorneys get a lot of work bickering over whether former couples were or weren’t married.

That’s not really true, although it has certainly been applied as such in more modern times in some states, as Mr. Marvin found out.

Common law marriage in the US is actually a bit of an odd holdover from colonial times. In 1753, Parliament passed a law forbidding “clandestine marriage” which meant marriages not performed and properly filed by an Anglican clergyman. It was partly just an attempt to get better record keeping, but it was also aimed at religious conformity-- Catholic (and other non-conformist) marriages weren’t recognized but previous to the act you could get married by a priest and usually get away with being married without actually undergoing an Anglican ceremony. Clandestine marriages had never technically been legal, but they were generally tolerated prior to the act.

However, the act didn’t apply in the overseas colonies and by explicitly exempting them it made it more clear that such marriages were legal there. This was partly simply because it might not always be practical to find a clergyman in the wild and wooly Americas, but also because of the greater tolerance lent towards non-conformists in the colonies. When the US became independent, many states kept the common law marriage mostly for the merely practical reason, but probably a little bit also because people worried about the government trying to use marriage to enforce a particular religious doctrine down the line.

So, short version, it was originally intended to make it easier for people who did want to get married to get married. It was never meant to force people to be married, or prevent them from cohabitating (there were fornication laws for that).

I have friends who have been together 30 years or so. If you call one the other’s husband/wife they scowl and correct you. But they’re happy as can be. Why fuck up a good thing?:smiley:

Under the common law (which may have been amended in those states that still recognize it - the last time I checked there were about a dozen) the salient features were the intent to consider themselves married and to hold out to the public as married. There was no duration period necessary. How do “you hold out to the public that you are married”? Many ways. One is that you refer yourselves to others as married, but good evidence of that are your tax forms, execution of written instruments, etc.

Cecil Adams on Are ships’ captains allowed to marry people at sea? (1987)

We do–adult interdependent relationship. (Cite to Alberta’s Adult Interdependent Relationships Act.) Mind, that’s in Alberta, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other provinces were using it too.

Is an adult interdependent act something two people do with a Depend ™?

It depends.

The problem is that there are two common – and largely opposite – understandings of the term “common-law wife/spouse/marriage.”

The first is the legal definition of common-law marriage in those states and jurisdictions that recognize it. The requirements for a common-law marriage vary slightly from state to state, but are generally those from Cecil’s column that bibliophage quoted just above. The thing about a common-law marriage is that, where it is recognized, it is a fully binding, legal marriage treated exactly the same as a marriage with a license and “I do’s” before a judge or preacher. If you live in in a state that recognizes common-law marriage and meet the requirements of that state, you are married and the marriage will be recognized by any other state you move to. You have to file your taxes as married, and if you want to get out of it, you have to go through a formal divorce. It’s a marriage for all purposes.

The second definition (more commonly used in popular culture), by contrast, is used to describe when people live together but are not legally married. Almost always, it is used slightly sneeringly to suggest a not-quite-legitimate relationship – people who are just shacking up. You’ll hear some newscaster announce that Joe Scumbag and his “common-law wife” were arrested for mopery, but never use the term to describe a Hollywood couple that have lived together for years and have multiple kids together.