Are you an unmarried couple in California seeking to coexist without a formal marriage? Or maybe you moved into California recently from a state that recognizes common law marriage, and you’re wondering if you will still enjoy the same rights and responsibilities of common law marriage in California.

Common law marriage in California ended in 1895. However, couples who continuously live together may still have certain rights to property division and financial support. Stick around until the end to learn more about the concept of common law marriage in California and what the alternatives are.

What Is Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage between two people who aren’t actually married. These couples have not obtained a marriage license or had their legal marriages formalized by a ceremony. In states that accept common law marriages, they exist when a couple meets the requirements of a common law marriage in that state.

Does California Recognize Common Law Marriage?

No, common law marriage is no longer possible in California. The laws regarding legal marriage in California outline that a couple can’t declare their marriage legal through cohabitation or verbal consent. Even when a couple lives together in California for a given period of time, the family law courts in California cannot take this as evidence of marriage.

However, there is a major exception. The laws in California outline that if a marriage was validated based on the laws of a different state or foreign country (where the common-law marriage in question took place), the state of California will recognize the marital status of the couple.

For instance, let’s take this situation: A couple lived in a state or foreign country where common law marriage was legal, and they got married officially. When the couple moves to California, the laws will consider the alleged marriage legal. Therefore, their marriage will still be considered official in California based on the legal requirements from the other state or country. This is the only instance where common law marriage can stand in California.

Common Law Marriages from the Other States

As we’ve said, there are some states that allow common law marriage. For a couple to be recognized through common law marriage in California, they must have satisfied the other state’s requirements for common law marriage. You should also remember that the laws regarding common law marriage vary from one state to another.

For clarity on such issues, you need to link up with an attorney who will help in determining whether the laws from the state you came from (that allows common law marriage) can be accepted in California. Generally, most of the states that allow common law marriage require that you file joint tax returns, share the same last name, or have joint credit cards.

Some of the common law marriage states include:

  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Alabama
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Texas
  • Iowa
  • Rhode Island, and
  • Montana

What About Palimony Laws in California?

In California, “palimony“ is like spousal support for an invalid marriage, including a common law marriage. Palimony is generally defined as financial support paid by one former spouse to the other after the termination of their domestic or marital relationship. Palimony may be ordered by family law courts during divorce proceedings, or it may be agreed upon by the divorcing parties in a written settlement agreement.

There is no specific formula for calculating palimony in California: The amount and the time period of payments depend on the circumstances of your case. However, there are some general guidelines that the family court follows when making a palimony determination for an alternative type of marriage.

The courts use the following factors to determine the amount you’ll pay or get paid as palimony after an alleged common-law marriage:

  • The length of the marriage or domestic partnership
  • Age and health
  • Earning capacity
  • Standard of living during the informal marriage
  • Contributions to the marriage or domestic partnership, including homemaking, child–rearing, and career–building
  • Relative needs of each party
  • The ability of the paying spouse to support themselves while making payments
  • Tax consequences of the palimony payments

In California, palimony payments are typically made on a monthly basis, although they can also be paid in a lump sum or some other periodic arrangement. There is no set duration for palimony payments, and they may be ordered for a specific period of time or indefinitely.

If you are seeking alimony for couples or palimony in California for this type of union, you may choose to consult a family law attorney for their legal opinions.

What Happens When an Unmarried Couple Own Assets Together in California?

Very often unmarried couples in California have a joint bank account, pay debts together, commingle their earnings, and even hold title to real or personal property together. The way titles or assets are held may muddy the waters considerably should the couple later separate. The form of title could also have an unintended consequence should one of the parties unexpectedly pass away. Unmarried couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples. Each party should give thoughtful consideration to the following questions:

  1. How are joint bank accounts set up? Does the joint account give each party an equal right to the money in the account?
  2. Who is listed as a beneficiary or alternate payee on retirement, pension, or 401(k) accounts?
  3. In situations where the parties co-own real property, does the manner of real estate title provide the other co-owner full beneficiary rights in case of death? Alternatively, does each party hold a separate interest? The manner of title will have a profound impact on what happens to the other parties’ interests should one of them pass away.
  4. Have the parties set up an estate plan that will protect the rights of their unmarried partner? Remember, unmarried parties do not have the same rights as a married couple. Both parties should consider establishing a will or living trust to make sure their partner is listed as a beneficiary to their estate. Wills, trusts, and estate planning concerns are important issues regardless of whether the man and woman are married.

Since common law marriage in California does not exist, couples who live together over a long period without getting married should consider a non-marital or cohabitation agreement. While we cannot give you legal advice, we can help you prepare an effective and comprehensive cohabitation agreement to hopefully prevent problems in the event you break up. We can also prepare your estate planning documents to make sure your partner is protected in case of death. Contact us at 800-747-2780 today!