Common law marriage and domestic partnerships are ways to enjoy some of the benefits of marriage without having to obtain a marriage license. Many people choose these options rather than marriage for the sake of simplicity and convenience.

While the process of gaining a common law marriage or a domestic partnership is simpler than getting married, it can expose you to unexpected complications. These complications tend to arise when one of the partners passes away or the couple breaks up. When either of these situations occurs, the legal rights of unmarried couples living together can be unclear.

Thankfully, there are ways to add clarity to these circumstances. By working with common law marriage lawyers, like those at Envision Family Law, you can gain a better understanding of unmarried couples’ property rights, and set up agreements on how property will be divided if the relationship ends.

We’ll explain the details of common law marriage, palimony, asset division agreements, Marvin Claims, as well as answer a few questions about common law marriage in California:

  • What is Common Law Marriage?
  • How California Courts View Palimony
  • Agreements to Divide Assets Upon Break-Up or Death
  • Marvin Claims in California
  • Common Law Marriage Lawyers in California FAQs

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is a designation awarded by the state to couples that have cohabitated for a certain length of time. The minimum length of time needed to enter into a common law marriage varies from state to state, though seven years is the general timeframe. Once the cohabitation minimum is met, the couple is considered to be married.

Unlike a domestic partnership or an official marriage, common law marriages are not legally recognized in all states. Only nine states and Washington D.C. award this designation to couples. States like California, which does not offer common law marriages, will recognize one provided by another state government.

How California Courts View Palimony

Unmarried couples are not entitled to the property, inheritance, and spousal support rights of married couples, but they do have the right to enter into an agreement that specifies how these issues are handled. That said, California does place some restrictions on agreements between unmarried couples.

For example, an agreement that includes a provision for support, known as palimony, is not enforceable unless the couple is cohabitating. California courts have reasoned that the purpose of palimony is to compensate an individual for unpaid domestic services. Without this limitation, the courts would be flooded with palimony claims brought forth by dating couples.

When looking at the domestic services provided, keep in mind that the services you can receive benefits for must also be services that can be offered legally. For example, you can receive benefits for caring for children, similar to a nanny. However, having sex with a spouse would not be eligible as a service, because prostitution is illegal in California. A common law marriage lawyer can help you determine proper palimony for a fair agreement.

Agreements to Divide Assets Upon Break-Up or Death

High earners and high net-worth individuals need to set expectations for how their property will be allocated upon a break-up or the death of their partner. These are some of the common types of property that are included in an agreement:

  • Business or Professional Practice
  • Stocks and Investments
  • House or Real Estate
  • Vehicles
  • Art and Antiques
  • Pensions and Retirement Accounts

Unmarried couples’ property rights are not inherent, so they need to be clearly defined prior to a break-up or death. The courts will typically honor contracts between unmarried couples, but contracts can be contested, so it’s important to ensure that your agreement is properly drafted and executed by a common law marriage lawyer.

Marvin Claims in California

In California, claims by unmarried partners to enforce palimony or property sharing agreements are called Marvin claims. The claim gets its name from the decision in the 1976 case Marvin v. Marvin, where the court held that contracts between unmarried couples for palimony and property sharing were enforceable.

If you’ve been served with a Marvin claim or would like to create an agreement with your unmarried partner, it’s important to hire an attorney with experience in this area. Envision Family Law, LLP has common law marriage lawyers that are knowledgeable and experienced with family law issues concerning unmarried couples.

Common Law Marriage Lawyers in California FAQs

What states do not allow common law marriage?

Most states do not allow common law marriage. Only seven states and one district provide it. The places that offer common law marriage include:

  • Colorado
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington DC

In addition to the states that still allow common law marriages, there are two states that stopped awarding them in the 2010s. Alabama stopped handing out new common law marriages after 2017, and South Carolina stopped the practice on July 24, 2019. If the marriage was created prior to those dates, those states still recognize it as official.

While not offered by many states, a lawfully awarded common law marriage must be recognized by any other state in the union. Functionally, this means that if someone gets a common law marriage in Colorado, and then relocates to California, they are considered officially married.

How long do you need to live with someone in California to become domestic partners?

There is no minimum cohabitation length requirement to establish a domestic partnership in California. Anyone who has been dating and cohabitating with their partner for any length of time can enter into a domestic partnership.

To begin a domestic partnership, both individuals in the couple need to fill out a Declaration of Domestic Partnership. So long as both parties are over the age of 18, and of sound mind, there are no major restrictions on these partnerships. Even people under the age of 18 can forge a domestic partnership provided they have the written consent of their parent(s) or guardian(s).

While not the exact same as marriage, California treats domestic partnerships as equal to official marriages. Registered domestic partners have the same rights, protections, and benefits as spouses. The state of California recommends enlisting the assistance of a common law marriage lawyer to get accurate information about your partnership.

Contact Envision Family Law for Common Law Marriage Assistance

Navigating the process of transferring, dissolving, or establishing a common law marriage can be complicated. Don’t take on this challenge alone! The experienced common law marriage lawyers at Envision Family Law can help you understand the legal state of your relationship to ensure that it meets the expectations of you and your partner.

Call or text us today at (562) 379-4704 for assistance with common law marriage, divorce, or any other aspect of family law.