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California Common Law Marriage

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Common Law Marriage in California

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What Is Common Law Marriage?

"Common law" is when a couple has lived together and held themselves to the public as married for a long-enough period of time that the court recognizes the marriage, regardless of a ceremony.

Is There Common Law Marriage in California?

No, California does not recognize "common law marriage." Even though California does not have common law marriages, unmarried couples who have been together for an extended period of time do still have some rights.

At Stolar Law Group, we can help you protect those rights and provide you with straightforward advice regarding your situation.

Facing a family law matter in California? Contact us online or call us at (818) 600-6534 to schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer at our firm.

Can Unmarried Couples Divorce in California?

Spending a significant portion of your life with someone, and maybe even starting a family with them, can certainly make you feel like you are married. For the same reason, deciding to end your relationship with that person can also feel like you are getting divorced from them. As mentioned, though, California does not have a family law that recognizes common law marriage, so it also has no common law divorce.

However, when you are breaking up with your significant other, you could encounter legal issues that are similar to those that can come up in a divorce. It depends on the details of your relationship and how official you are looking to make your separation.

When leaving a significant other of many years, you might have questions involving your:

  • Finances: California does not see the financial accounts of unmarried couples as community or marital property by default. The couple must choose to specifically assign an account as jointly owned. If they do, then the finances within will have to be divided when separating, which will follow California’s community property rules that divide all shared assets equally. On the other hand, if you were the sole owner of a financial account, then you would have no obligation to give any of it to your significant other. You would also not have to pay any alimony or spousal support unless you willingly agreed to it.
  • Property: Unmarried couples usually do not share joint financial accounts, but many do make large purchases together. For example, unmarried couples who have been together for years might co-sign when buying a home or a new automobile. If you are an official co-owner of a piece of property, then it can be split evenly when leaving your partner as if it was community property in a divorce. Otherwise, the property you acquired during your relationship will belong solely to the person who paid for it.
  • Children: The biggest complications for unmarried couples often arise when they are deciding on questions about their children together. Unmarried or not, California family courts will expect child support and child custody to be arranged for any child that was born while the couple was together, assuming the couple represents the child’s biological parents. If biological fatherhood is unclear or contested, then the court might order a paternity test. Unmarried partners are not obligated to pay child support or share custody for any child that is not biologically or legally theirs, even if they helped support and raise that child while in the relationship.

Domestic Violence & Unmarried Couples

California’s domestic violence laws do not limit acts of domestic violence to just incidents between married couples. Instead, domestic violence can be carried out by a perpetrator against someone they have a close or family relationship with, including cohabitants of the same residence. Under this broader definition, domestic violence can be an issue concerning unmarried couples.

An unmarried person can file for a restraining order against their partner on accusations of domestic violence, just as if they were two married spouses. The restraining order will usually begin as a temporary order to keep the two parties separated, halt direct communication attempts, and make early decisions about how to handle child custody if applicable. A court date should be set soon to decide if the order should be modified, made permanent, or removed.

Stolar Law Group of Los Angeles can help you understand your rights in a domestic violence situation as half of an unmarried couple. We are ready to help protect you from further harm as the person reporting the abuse or shield your rights if you think you were wrongly accused of domestic abuse. California does not have any common marriage laws to set clear guidelines in these situations, so we highly advise you to let our team lead the way.

Common Law Marriages From Other States

It may be possible to be seen as married by California courts if you lived as a couple in another state that recognizes common law marriage.

For recognition of your common law marriage in California, you and your partner must have met the other state's criteria for common law marriage. These laws vary from state to state, so it is important to work with an attorney who can help you determine if you meet the criteria. In general, most states require that you hold yourselves out as married, such as filing joint tax returns and using the same last name.

What States Have Common Law Marriage?

The following states recognize common law marriage:

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

Seek the Assistance of Stolar Law Group

Because every situation is unique, our lawyers can assess your situation and help you understand your legal rights and options after a separation. We also welcome calls from out-of-state individuals who are facing legal proceedings in California.

Contact our firm to learn more about your legal rights in California.



Even if you were not legally married or do not meet another state's criteria for common law marriage, you may have limited rights similar to divorcing couples. For example, if you reasonably believed that you had a valid marriage, you may have the right to financial support and the division of assets. Whether you had a reasonable belief can be difficult to prove and often involves situations where there was a technical error in the marriage process.

You may also have rights after you separate if there was a written or verbal contract promising financial support, such as a cohabitation agreement. This is often referred to as "palimony," and it similar to alimony for couples who have been together for an extended period of time.

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Reach out to the Los Angeles family lawyers at Stolar Law Group for help with your divorce, child custody, child support, or family law case. We offer free and confidential consultations, and our multilingual staff can assist you in English, Spanish, Armenian, Arabic, or Hebrew.

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