Most states do not recognize common law marriages; however, in New York, the state will recognize common law marriages that were recognized in those states that do allow these types of unions (see below for a list of those states). Here’s where it gets a bit complicated:

A couple in Rochester have been together for several years and take a vacation to visit family in Texas, a state that does recognize common law marriages. Upon their return, New York then recognizes their relationship as a marriage. They will need to provide some type of proof that they were indeed in Texas (or any other state that recognizes common law marriages) in order to validate the marriage. Usually, proof takes the form of receipts from hotels or others. Also, there must have been someone who witnessed any declarations of their relationship, directly or indirectly.

This also means that should the couple part ways, they may need to seek a legal divorce, complete with property distribution, contractual commitments made together and any parenting issues. Just like legal marriages, there are no guarantees of an even division of the assets as the divorce proceeds.

It’s also important to keep in mind that a common law marriage is different from a domestic partnership. These types of distinctions are generally advantageous to same-sex couples who cohabitate, but who may not wish to enter into a legal marriage.

Those who are in marriages recognized by New York will have access to more benefits offered by the state. This can include common law marriages, but not domestic partnerships. If the partnership transitions to marriage, naturally, the same benefits and rights are then made available.

If you’re concerned about the legalities of your relationship or are uncertain as to how your situation could play out, based on your current situation, you should contact an experienced divorce attorney who can delve into the specifics.

This becomes especially important if there are children involved. You’ll want to know more about how a split could affect everything from retirement accounts to a home owned by one or both parties as well as insurance, estate planning, finances and other assets and liabilities you may have together. All of these situations can significantly affect the way both parties enter into or leave the union.

Choosing to marry is a decision we each make, knowing it will affect us the rest of our lives, just as a divorce will affect us. Decisions on either should be made with a full understanding of what it means and what the repercussions might be. A Rochester divorce lawyer can help you get to that place of understanding so that you’re making choices that are best for you and your family.

States that do recognize common law marriage:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia (only if the common law marriage was created before 1997)
  • Idaho (only if the common law marriage was created before 1996)
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (this state recognizes common law arranges for estate planning or inheritance purposes only)
  • Ohio (only if the common law marriage was created before 1991)
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania