When it comes to the law, the idea of a common law marriage can be confusing. If you are like many people, you have probably heard of common law marriage and have some idea of what it is. For example, many people have heard that a couple living together outside of marriage becomes common law married after living together for seven years. Other people might have heard five years, nine years, or other variations on this concept, but it basically involves automatically becoming common law married after living together for specific amount of time.
Naturally, many people have questions about what it means to be common law married, and how it might affect their estate plan. To help clear up the issue of common law marriage and explain how it can affect estate planning, let’s take a look at this commonly misunderstood idea.
When people are married through common law, they are a legally married couple just like anyone else. There is no legal distinction between a couple married through common law and a couple married by any other method. The couple is legally married, have the same rights as any other legally married couple, and in order to terminate the marriage must go through a divorce or annulment.
However, the requirements for entering into a common law marriage are very different than what most people believe. To begin with, only a small number of states allow people to get married through common law.
Further, in order to be married by common law, you have to meet specific legal requirements. State rules about common law marriage differ, but they effectively require a couple to be of a minimum age, agree to enter into a marriage, and hold themselves out to the public as a legally married couple. If they meet all of these requirements, that couple is married through common law.
Note, however, that there is no specific time requirement involved in any of these rules. While being together for a long time and holding yourself out as a married couple can be additional evidence to show that you are in fact married by common law, it is not necessarily required.
Common-law Marriage in Kansas and Oklahoma and Your Estate Plan
Kansas is one of the few states that still recognizes common-law marriage, while Oklahoma recognizes common-law marriages that were entered into prior to 1998.
So, if you are married through common law, you need to draft an estate plan that recognizes this fact. On the other hand, if you believe you are common-law married but are not, your estate plan will need to address common estate planning issues in a very different way than one crafted by a married couple. This is why if you believe you are common-law married, you need to speak to an attorney to be clear about what exactly you need to do, not to mention clear up any possible questions about the state of your marriage.