Does Minnesota Have Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is a form of informal marriage that exists in certain jurisdictions without the need for a formal ceremony or marriage license.

It allows couples to be recognized as legally married if specific criteria are met. However, in Minnesota, the recognition of common law marriage is not applicable.

This article explores the question does minnesota have common law marriage? and the legal implications for couples residing in the state.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

Before exploring Minnesota’s stance on common law marriage, let’s clarify what it entails.

Common law marriage occurs when a couple lives together and holds themselves out as married, even without obtaining a formal marriage license or participating in a ceremonial event.

The criteria for recognizing common law marriage vary from state to state, with some states having strict requirements, while others do not acknowledge it at all.

Does Minnesota Have Common Law Marriage?

Minnesota does not recognize common law marriage. Common law marriage is a type of informal marriage that is established without a formal ceremony or marriage license.

In states that recognize common law marriage, couples can be considered legally married if they meet certain requirements, such as living together for a significant period and holding themselves out as married.

However, in Minnesota, for a marriage to be legally recognized, a formal marriage license must be obtained and a marriage ceremony must be conducted by an authorized officiant.

Without a valid marriage license and ceremony, the couple will not be considered legally married under Minnesota law.

Legal Implications For Not Recognizing Common Law Marriage

Not recognizing common law marriage can have several legal implications for couples in Minnesota. Some of the key considerations include:

  1. Property Rights: Unlike in common law marriage states, where assets acquired during the relationship may be considered joint property, Minnesota follows strict property laws for unmarried couples. Each partner retains ownership of their individual assets, and there is no automatic division of property if the relationship ends.
  2. Inheritance: In the event of a partner’s death, an unmarried partner may not be entitled to inherit any assets or property by default. Intestate succession laws may prioritize immediate family members over the surviving partner.
  3. Health Care and Decision Making: Married couples often have the legal right to make medical decisions for each other in case of incapacitation. Unmarried partners may face challenges in exercising similar decision-making authority.
  4. Alimony and Spousal Support: Without legal recognition of marriage, an unmarried partner cannot seek spousal support or alimony if the relationship ends.
  5. Child Custody and Support: If the couple has children, the lack of marriage may affect child custody and support arrangements. Establishing legal parental rights may require additional legal steps.

Legal Requirements for Marriage in Minnesota

To be legally married in Minnesota, couples must comply with specific legal requirements:

  1. Marriage License: Obtaining a marriage license is a fundamental step in the process of getting married in Minnesota. Both parties must apply in person at a county clerk’s office and meet the state’s eligibility criteria, which typically include age restrictions and not being already married to someone else.
  2. Marriage Ceremony: Once the marriage license is issued, the couple must have a marriage ceremony conducted by an authorized officiant, such as a judge, clergy member, or a person designated by a religious organization.
  3. Witnesses: In Minnesota, it is essential to have at least two witnesses present during the marriage ceremony to sign the marriage license as evidence of the marriage’s validity.

Benefits of Legal Marriage

While common law marriage might seem like an informal and convenient alternative, legal marriage offers several essential benefits and protections to the couple:

  1. Property Rights: Legal marriage ensures that both spouses have rights to shared property and assets, including inheritance rights in the absence of a will.
  2. Legal Protections: Married couples are entitled to various legal protections, such as spousal support, access to health insurance, and survivor benefits.
  3. Parental Rights: Legal marriage provides greater clarity on parental rights and responsibilities, particularly in matters of child custody and visitation.
  4. Divorce Proceedings: In the event of a separation, legal marriage provides a clear legal framework for the division of assets, spousal support, and child custody, streamlining the divorce process.

Do Unmarried Couples Have Rights in Minnesota?

Yes, unmarried couples in Minnesota do have certain rights, although these rights may differ from those granted to married couples.

In Minnesota, as in many other states, the legal system recognizes the concept of cohabitation and provides some protections for unmarried couples, particularly those who have been in long-term relationships or have shared assets and responsibilities.

Here are some rights that unmarried couples may have in Minnesota:

  1. Property Rights: If an unmarried couple jointly owns property, such as a home or a car, each partner has a legal right to their share of the property based on their ownership percentage. However, it’s essential to have clear documentation of ownership and contributions to avoid disputes in case of a breakup.
  2. Contractual Agreements: Unmarried couples can enter into various contractual agreements, such as cohabitation agreements, that outline the rights and responsibilities of each partner during the relationship and in the event of a separation. These agreements can cover property division, financial support, and other matters to protect both parties’ interests.
  3. Parental Rights: Unmarried couples who have children together share parental rights and responsibilities. This includes custody, visitation, and child support matters, which are handled through family court.
  4. Domestic Violence Protections: Unmarried partners are entitled to seek protection from domestic violence or harassment under Minnesota’s domestic abuse laws.
  5. Medical Decisions: An unmarried partner may have the right to make medical decisions for their partner in certain situations, particularly if they have a signed medical power of attorney or healthcare directive.

What Constitutes a Legal Marriage in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, a legal marriage is one that complies with the state’s laws and requirements governing marriage. To constitute a legal marriage, the following elements must be satisfied:

1. Age Requirements: Both parties must meet the minimum age requirement to marry without parental consent.

the minimum age to marry in Minnesota is 18. If a person is 16 or 17 years old, they can marry with the written consent of both parents or their legal guardians.

Individuals under the age of 16 generally cannot marry in Minnesota, even with parental consent.

2. Capacity and Consent: Both parties must have the mental capacity to understand the nature of the marriage contract and enter into it willingly. A marriage cannot be legally valid if one or both parties lack the capacity to consent due to intoxication, mental incapacity, or coercion.

3. No Existing Marriage: Both parties must be legally eligible to marry, which means they cannot already be married to someone else.

Bigamy, the act of marrying someone while still married to another person, is illegal in Minnesota.

4. Marriage License: Before getting married, the couple must obtain a valid marriage license from a county clerk’s office in Minnesota. The application process typically requires both parties to apply in person, provide identification and other necessary documents, and pay the required fee.

Is Cohabitation Legal in Minnesota?

Yes, cohabitation is legal in Minnesota. Cohabitation refers to the act of living together as an unmarried couple in a domestic partnership without getting legally married. There are no laws in Minnesota that prohibit or criminalize cohabitation between consenting adults.

Many couples choose to cohabit for various reasons, such as testing the waters of a committed relationship before marriage, personal preferences, financial considerations, or cultural beliefs. Cohabiting couples in Minnesota can live together and share their lives without legal restrictions.

While cohabitation itself is legal, it’s important to note that unmarried couples in cohabiting relationships do not have the same legal rights and protections as married couples.

For example, without a legal marriage, cohabiting partners may not automatically have rights to each other’s property, inheritance, or certain benefits that are afforded to married couples.


1. If Minnesota doesn’t have common law marriage, what options do unmarried couples have to protect their rights and interests?

Even though Minnesota does not recognize common law marriage, unmarried couples can still protect their rights and interests through various legal means:

a. Cohabitation Agreements: Unmarried couples can create cohabitation agreements that outline the rights and responsibilities of each partner during the relationship and in case of a separation. These agreements can address property division, financial support, and other important matters.

b. Property Ownership: Unmarried couples can jointly own property and assets, clearly stating the ownership percentages and contributions of each partner.

c. Wills and Estate Planning: Creating wills and estate planning documents can ensure that each partner’s assets and property are distributed according to their wishes in case of death.

d. Medical Directives: Unmarried partners can establish medical directives or healthcare power of attorney to make medical decisions for each other if one partner becomes incapacitated.

e. Parental Agreements: For unmarried couples with children, creating parental agreements or custody arrangements can help define parental rights and responsibilities.

2. Are there any benefits to having a legal marriage in Minnesota compared to a common law marriage?

Yes, there are several benefits to having a legal marriage in Minnesota compared to a common law marriage:

a. Legal Protections: Legal marriage offers a wide range of legal protections and benefits to both spouses, such as spousal support, access to health insurance, survivor benefits, and legal recognition of the relationship in all states.

b. Property Rights: Married couples typically enjoy more robust property rights, including automatic ownership of marital property and inheritance rights without the need for a will.


In conclusion, Minnesota does not recognize common law marriage. Couples residing in the state must obtain a valid marriage license and have a formal ceremony to be legally considered married and enjoy the legal benefits and protections that come with it.

Unmarried partners in Minnesota should be aware of the legal implications of their relationship status, particularly regarding property rights, inheritance, and decision-making authority.

For any specific legal concerns or questions regarding marriage in Minnesota, it is essential to consult with a qualified legal professional.

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