Common Law Marriage?


I have a question regarding this. I’ve heard of this a lot, and I know of a few people who claim to be married, when they actually are not. I know that cohabitation with someone of the opposite gender is sinful. Why do you think people seem to think that they are married just because they live with thier boyfriend/girlfriend? How did this common law marriage idea come about? And I hope I didn’t offend anyone or anything, it’s just that I kinda hear these things a lot, and I’ve just wondered about it.


Common law marriage is an old, old concept. It used to be (and in some places, still is, as far as I know) that if you’d been living together for seven years, you were as good as married in the eyes of the law, and entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as any couple that went and got a marriage license.


Actually, there is more to common law marriage than just boyfriend and girlfriend living together. Only a handful of states recognize it, and there must be various criteria met, including, but not limited to, taking on the ‘husband’s’ last name by the wife, representing themselves as a married couple, filing joint income tax, and intending to marry at some time.


common law marriage came about through just that, English common law, or law “for the commons” (people not the nobility) which developed gradually out of Anglo-Saxon law, evolving through the Norman and subsequent periods. It is the foundation of our own legal system, and at one time anything that was not covered by a specific statute (statutory law is in a way the opposite of common law) was governing by precedents of common law. In that concept, a common law marriage recognized that after a due period of time cohabiting, esp. if children resulted, the consent of the two parties was enough to establish civilly valid marriage.

Read Regency romance novels and you will find the couples elope head for Gretna Green, the first town over the Scottish border, where consent of the parties, without civil or church witnesses, was enough to establish marriage. Several states (Texas among them) still recognize common law marriage, but differ in what is necessary to establish it, usually the minimum is mutual consent and holding themselves out to the public as a married couple. It is important because of child custody and property rights, and the effect on divorce laws. In most states, statue has taken over the regulation of marriage, and of other areas formerly covered in common law, but it may still be cited by lawyers as legal precedent in some cases.


Sometimes common law marriage is translated as concubinage into foreign languages, such as mine. It comes from Roman law, where by cohabitation the man acquired usucaption on the woman and she became his wife. The requirement was the absence of impediments or contrary will. However, such a marriage was easier to dissolve as well, even though it was a marriage, not concubinage.


Here is a document from the Vatican about De Facto or Common Law Marriages.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit