How Does Common Law Marriage in Maryland Work?

Common law marriage is something a lot of people have heard of but do not fully understand. What people think they know is often only rumor and laws regarding this matter vary from state to state, which makes things even more complicated. If you are in a relationship, but not married to your partner, you probably have questions about common law marriages.

Our attorneys can help you and your partner understand Maryland’s laws regarding common law marriage. Contact our team of lawyers to get answers.

What is Considered Common Law Marriage in Maryland?

According to the People’s Law Library of Maryland, a common law marriage is generally defined as “a relationship in which a couple lives together but has not participated in a lawful ceremony.”

Common law marriages cannot be formed in Maryland. This means that regardless of a couple’s history or living situation, they cannot obtain legal rights from their relationship unless they enter some type of legal agreement, such as a cohabitation agreement, but a legal marriage cannot be created by a legal agreement.

However, Maryland does recognize valid common law marriages formed in another jurisdiction as long as the requirements of that jurisdiction were met. Common law marriages can be formed in very few states, including:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • The District of Columbia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah (after they have been validated by an administrative or court order)

In Georgia, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, common law marriages created before an established date are recognized, and in New Hampshire, common law marriages are only recognized in cases involving inheritance. Each state has a specific length of time required before a common law marriage can be established.

If you are involved in a common law marriage established in one of these states and have questions regarding the legal validity of your relationship in Maryland, we can help you understand your rights.

Common Law Marriage Requirements

While common law marriage requirements do vary from state to state, there are several basic elements, including the following:

  • Both individuals must live in a state that honors common law marriages at the time the marriage began
  • Both individuals must have the legal capacity to enter a common law marriage, for example, having a sound mind and being of legal age
  • Both people intend to marry each other
  • Both consider themselves husband and wife
  • Both agree to be husband and wife from that point forward
  • The individuals live together

Couples must meet their state’s requirements to earn the associated benefits of common law marriage.

What are the Benefits of Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriages provide couples who have not had a legally binding marriage ceremony with the same rights given to couples who have participated in a legal marriage ceremony, such as inheritance and survivor benefits. Common law marriage couples can also potentially qualify for benefits such as health insurance through each other’s employers.

To receive the benefits associated with common law marriage, a couple might be asked to prove that their marriage is valid. To do so, the couple would need to provide proof that each aspect of their state’s law has been satisfied. For example, witnesses attesting to the fact that the couple presents themselves as married to their community for the required length of time.

Common Law Marriages Require Legal Dissolution

While a common law marriage can be formed without a legal ceremony, the dissolution of a common law marriage must be done through legal action, as there is no “common law marriage divorce.” A legal divorce or annulment is required to end a common law marriage. Simply parting ways or breaking up will not end the marriage.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage

If you and your partner do not wish to be legally married either through a legal ceremony or common law, you do have alternatives that allow you to show your commitment without any legal impact.

If you live in a non-common law marriage state like Maryland, you may present yourselves as husband and wife. Living in a non-common law marriage state ensures that you cannot be legally married without a legal ceremony.

Commitment Ceremonies in Maryland

Commitment ceremonies or non-legal weddings offer couples the opportunity to have an event that establishes their commitment to each other without being legally binding. It is important to note that the individual who performs the ceremony must not be authorized to perform marriage ceremonies; if they are, the marriage is legal regardless of the intention of the couple.

Cohabitation Agreements in Maryland

If you would like to ensure that you and your partner secure legal rights, a cohabitation agreement is an excellent option. Such agreements are available to both same sex and heterosexual couples, and provide a memorialization of the terms of your lives together.

These agreements can set arrangements for what should happen in the event of a breakup or death. Cohabitation agreements, like pre-nuptial and separation agreements, are gaining popularity as relationships continue to be redefined.

Contact Houlon Berman

If you are involved in a common law marriage, or are interested in learning more about your alternatives to common law marriage in Maryland, contact our team. We have decades of experience in securing individuals’ rights and can help you make the proper arrangements for your relationship.

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