Common Law Marriages

What is a Common Law Marriage?

Answer: Common law marriages do not result from couples living together. Living together has nothing to do with it. In a common law marriage, the parties perform a specific act to marry one another.

In order for a common law marriage to occur, two individuals, whether they live together or not, must be present in a state that recognizes common law marriages and they merely need to (preferably in the presence of witnesses) say to one another that they are then and there marrying each other, and that this is their intention. They are then officially married without any ceremony.

The marriage that I just described is just as valid and binding (with all the ramifications such as divorce, inheritance, etc.) as the ceremonial type marriage with which we are more familiar.

Common law marriages were permitted in Illinois until the 1920’s. Today there are only a few states that still allow common law marriages.

Historically, common law marriages were the only type of marriages until the latter part of the 19th century. Back then, the vast majority of the people lived in remote areas and rarely came in touch with judges or clergy.

As our population grew, society apparently acquired the need and the methods for requiring and registering marriage license, which are necessary today for a valid marriage ceremony.


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Kari and Richard are staunch advocates of the non-court approach to divorce, and are also active and seasoned litigators with over 80 years of combined trial experience in the Illinois divorce courts of Cook and DuPage counties.