1 minute read

Common-Law Marriage

History, Features, Legal Applications, Late Twentieth-century Developments

A union of two people not formalized in the customary manner as prescribed by law but created by an agreement to marry followed by COHABITATION.

A fundamental question in marriage is whether the union is legally recognized. This question is important because marriage affects property ownership, rights of survivorship, spousal benefits, and other marital amenities. With so much at stake, marriage has become a matter regulated by law.

In the United States, the law of marriage is reserved to the states and thus governed by state law. All states place restrictions on marriage, such as age requirements and the prohibition of intrafamilial marriage. Further, most states recognize marriage only upon completion of specified procedures. A typical statute requires a witnessed ceremony solemnized by a lawfully authorized person, submission to blood tests, and fulfillment of license requirements. However, in some states, the marital union of a man and a woman can still be achieved in the most simple, time-honored ways.


Jasper, Margaret C. 1994. Marriage and Divorce. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana.

Wadlington, Walter J. 1990. Domestic Relations Manual for Teachers: To Accompany Cases and Materials. 2d. ed. Westbury, N.Y.: Foundation Press.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Coagulation to Companies House