Close Menu

Does California Recognize “Common Law” Marriages?

Posted on August 1st, 2022

At the Harris Family Law Group, our Los Angeles family law attorney knows that families come in many different forms, and we respect each of our fellow California resident’s right to choose what their family looks like.

While some couples will live the rest of their lives together without saying, “I Do,” there are certain legal rights that come with marriage. These rights become especially important when couples decide to go their separate ways.

Here is what California residents need to know about their relationships, and the legal protection provided by our state’s laws.

What Rights Do Unmarried Couples Have in California?

California does not recognize “common law” marriage.

For clarity, in other states where the practice is recognized, a common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage between two people who have not purchased a marriage license or had their marriage solemnized by a ceremony.

Where common law marriages are recognized, they are solidified when couples live together for a certain amount of time, combine finances, and describe themselves as spouses to others, among other criteria, which vary by state.

When the criteria are met, the couple is granted marital protection under state law. Again, California is not one of those states.

California does, however, recognize domestic partnerships.

According to the California Secretary of State (CSOS), if you and your partner are over 18, or one or both partners are under 18 and have obtained a court order granting permission to establish a domestic partnership and meet the requirements of the California Family Code section 297, you may register a domestic partnership with the CSOS.

What Happens When Unmarried Partners Share Property, Finances & Children?

This is where things can get tricky, from a marital rights standpoint, especially when couples do not have a domestic partnership or written agreement in place at the time they go their separate ways.

Each unmarried partner is presumed to own his or her own property and debts unless they have deliberately combined assets, which could include joint financial accounts or having both names on a deed to the family home or other property.

Likewise, if both parents’ names do not appear on the birth certificate, things can become complicated when it is time to establish custody after a split. For unmarried parents, the parentage of their children needs to be established legally.

We can help with any of these circumstances, whether you and your partner were legally married or not, so you can start preparing for your new life with confidence.

It is important to understand, unmarried partners often present their break-ups in a way that insists the other party is not entitled to anything they share. This may not be true. Do not be intimidated by your ex-partner. Contact a skilled Los Angeles family law attorney instead, so you can make informed decisions about your future.

Contact Our Experienced Family Law Attorneys in Los Angles, California Today

If you have questions about how your future will unfold after leaving a long-term relationship where your finances, property, business, or children belong to both of you, we can help by scheduling a free consultation today by calling (310) 745-8644.

At the Harris Family Group, our Los Angeles County family attorneys collaborate with clients using flat fees, instead of billable hours, which allows you to plan your expenditures upfront, so you can plan your future accordingly.