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How to Prove a Common Law Marriage: Evidence and Documentation Needed

Updated: Aug 11, 2023


How to Prove a Common Law Marriage: Evidence and Documentation Needed

Common law marriage, also known as marriage by habit and repute, is a legal recognition of a marriage without a formal ceremony or marriage license. In jurisdictions that recognize common law marriage, couples may be entitled to the same legal rights and benefits as formally married couples. However, proving a common law marriage can be challenging, as it often requires presenting evidence and documentation to demonstrate that the relationship meets the criteria for a legally recognized union. In this article, we explore the key elements to prove a common law marriage and the evidence needed to support the claim.


Understanding the Criteria for Common Law Marriage

The criteria for establishing a common law marriage vary from one jurisdiction to another. In general, common law marriage is recognized when the following elements are present:

  1. Cohabitation: The couple must have lived together for a certain period, typically several years, with the intention of presenting themselves as married.

  2. Mutual Consent: Both parties must agree to be married and consider themselves to be in a marital relationship.

  3. Public Recognition: The couple must present themselves as married to the community, including friends, family, and acquaintances.

  4. Holding Out: The couple must conduct themselves as married, using the same last name, filing joint tax returns, and referring to each other as spouses.


Evidence and Documentation Needed


To prove a common law marriage, couples should gather and present the following evidence and documentation:

  1. Affidavits from Witnesses: Affidavits from friends, family members, or acquaintances who can testify to the couple's cohabitation, relationship, and public recognition of their marriage can be compelling evidence.

  2. Joint Accounts and Finances: Documents showing joint bank accounts, joint ownership of property, or shared financial responsibilities can demonstrate the couple's mutual consent and financial intertwining.

  3. Lease or Mortgage Agreements: Providing documents that show joint lease or mortgage agreements for shared residence strengthens the claim of cohabitation and shared living arrangements.

  4. Insurance and Beneficiary Designations: Evidence of joint insurance policies, as well as beneficiary designations on life insurance policies or retirement accounts, can further establish the couple's commitment to each other.

  5. Testimonies of Intent: Expressing mutual intent to be married through written communication, such as letters or emails, can help support the claim of a common law marriage.

  6. Joint Tax Returns: Filing joint tax returns as a married couple is strong evidence of the couple's intent to be recognized as legally married.

  7. Social Media and Online Presence: Social media posts and online profiles that depict the couple as married or refer to each other as spouses can be useful evidence.


Seeking Legal Assistance


Proving a common law marriage can be complex, and the requirements for recognition vary by jurisdiction. Couples seeking to establish their common law marriage should consider seeking legal assistance from a family law attorney. An experienced attorney can help gather the necessary evidence, navigate the legal process, and ensure that the claim meets the specific requirements of the jurisdiction.


Proving a common law marriage involves providing convincing evidence of cohabitation, mutual consent, public recognition, and holding out as a married couple. Gathering the appropriate documentation and evidence is crucial for establishing the legitimacy of the relationship and ensuring that couples are entitled to the legal rights and benefits afforded to formally married couples. Seeking legal guidance from a family law attorney can be invaluable in navigating the complexities of proving a common law marriage and protecting the couple's legal interests.


Proving a common law marriage requires specific evidence and documentation. Contact us for guidance on the necessary steps and documentation.



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