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Levy v. Louisiana

Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage is based on an agreement between two legally competent persons to marry followed by a significant period of living together as husband and wife. The marriage does not rely on ceremony or the completion of specific legal procedures.

Common law marriage is rooted in ancient Roman and early English custom before the mid-1700s. Marriage, then, merely required an agreement to be married and cohabitate. In early America, courts found this form of marriage valid under common law. Marriage law in the United States was left to the states, and by the 1800s many states began requiring marriage ceremonies and other legal formalities including licenses. By the 1990s, only 14 states still recognized common-law marriage.

Legal standards have been established for couples to prove common-law marriages. These standards require consent and mutual agreement to be married, long and consistent cohabitation, and intentional public representation as a married couple. A legally recognized marriage is vital since it affects property rights, insurance and pension benefits, taxation, parenthood issues, and divorce. Establishing whether a marriage is legal or not is essential when a common-law marriage is challenged in any of these areas.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Levy v. Louisiana - Significance, The Levy Family, An Important Reversal: Illegitimate Children As Persons, An Important Reversal