What Is The Criteria For Common Law Marriage in California?

Common law marriage is a concept that has generated much confusion and misinformation over the years.

Many people believe that living together for a certain period automatically grants them the legal status of a married couple.

However, it’s crucial to clarify that California does not recognize common law marriage. In this article, we will explore the question what is the criteria for common law marriage in california? and dispel some common myths surrounding this topic in California.

What is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is a type of informal marriage that is established without a formal ceremony or marriage license.

It is recognized in some states where a couple becomes legally married by living together for a specific period and holding themselves out as married. However, it’s vital to emphasize that California is not one of those states.

What is the Criteria for Common Law Marriage in California?

There is no specific criteria for common law marriage in California because the state does not recognize this type of marriage.

Regardless of how long a couple has lived together, their cohabitation does not automatically grant them the legal status of a married couple. To be legally married in California, the following criteria must be met:

  1. Marriage License: A valid marriage license must be obtained from the county clerk’s office before any marriage ceremony can take place. Both parties must appear together in person and provide certain documents, such as identification and proof of age, to obtain the license.
  2. Marriage Ceremony: After obtaining the marriage license, the couple must have a formal marriage ceremony performed by an authorized officiant. The ceremony can be religious or civil but must comply with California’s marriage laws.
  3. Consent and Capacity: Both parties must enter into the marriage voluntarily and with the mental capacity to understand the nature of the commitment they are making. If either party is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or lacks the mental capacity to consent, the marriage may be considered invalid.

Common Myths about Common Law Marriage in California

Despite California’s clear stance on common law marriage, several misconceptions persist. Let’s address some of the common myths:

1. Myth: Living together for a certain period makes us common-law married in California.

Reality: No duration of cohabitation will result in a common law marriage in California. The state only recognizes marriages that are legally formed through a valid marriage license and ceremony.

2. Myth: If we introduce each other as husband and wife, we are common-law married.

Reality: Merely introducing each other as husband and wife does not create a common law marriage in California. Such terms of endearment do not carry legal weight in the absence of a formal marriage.

3. Myth: If we move to a state that recognizes common law marriage, our status will change.

Reality: California’s stance on common law marriage remains the same, regardless of where the couple resides. Moving to a state that recognizes common law marriage does not retroactively validate the relationship.

When did California stop recognizing Common Law Marriage?

California has never recognized common law marriage. This means that California has never had a period in its history where it formally recognized common law marriages.

The state has consistently required couples to obtain a valid marriage license and have a formal marriage ceremony performed by an authorized officiant to be legally married.

Marriage Requirements in California

To enter into a legal marriage in California, couples must meet certain criteria:

  1. Age Requirement: Both parties must be at least 18 years old to marry without parental consent. In some cases, individuals aged 16 or 17 may marry with the written consent of at least one parent or legal guardian.
  2. Marriage License: Obtaining a marriage license is a crucial step in the marriage process. The couple must appear together in person at the county clerk’s office, pay the required fee, and provide valid identification.
  3. Ceremony: After obtaining the marriage license, the couple must have a formal marriage ceremony. This can be officiated by a religious leader, judge, commissioner, or other authorized officiants.
  4. Public Declaration: During the ceremony, both parties must willingly declare their intent to marry in the presence of witnesses.
  5. Witness Signatures: After the ceremony, the couple, the officiant, and two witnesses must sign the marriage license to make the marriage legally binding.

Legal Benefits of Formal Marriage:

Formal marriage in California comes with numerous legal benefits and protections, including:

  1. Community Property Rights: Married couples in California are entitled to equal ownership of most property acquired during the marriage.
  2. Spousal Support: In the event of divorce or separation, one spouse may be entitled to receive spousal support from the other.
  3. Inheritance Rights: Being married grants automatic inheritance rights, protecting the surviving spouse in the event of the other spouse’s death without a will.
  4. Health and Insurance Benefits: Many employers and insurance providers offer benefits to married couples that are not available to unmarried partners.

Do unmarried couples have rights in California?

Yes, unmarried couples in California do have certain rights, but it’s important to note that these rights are different from those granted to married couples.

California does not recognize common law marriage, as discussed earlier, but it does recognize certain rights and legal protections for unmarried couples who are in a cohabiting relationship.

Here are some of the rights and protections that unmarried couples may have in California:

  1. Property Rights: Unmarried couples can own property together, and they may choose to hold the property as joint tenants or tenants in common. Each form of ownership has its implications regarding how the property is passed on in case of one partner’s death or if the relationship ends.
  2. Cohabitation Agreements: Unmarried couples can create cohabitation agreements, which are legal contracts that define the rights and responsibilities of each partner during the relationship and in the event of separation. These agreements can cover issues such as property division, financial support, and custody of children.
  3. Parental Rights: Unmarried couples who have children together have parental rights and responsibilities. Both parents have the right to seek custody and visitation, and they also have an obligation to support their children financially.
  4. Domestic Partnership: California recognizes domestic partnerships for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Domestic partnerships offer some of the same legal protections and benefits as marriage, including healthcare and insurance benefits, inheritance rights, and some community property rights.
  5. Domestic Violence Protections: Unmarried partners are protected under California’s domestic violence laws. If one partner abuses or threatens the other, the victim can seek a restraining order for protection.
  6. Medical Decisions: Unmarried partners may face challenges when making medical decisions for each other. To address this, they can sign a healthcare power of attorney or an advance healthcare directive, which allows them to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner.

How Do I Prove Cohabitation in California?

Proving cohabitation in California typically involves presenting evidence to demonstrate that two individuals are living together in a committed domestic relationship.

Cohabitation can be relevant in various legal matters, such as establishing a domestic partnership or determining support obligations in certain situations. Here are some steps you can take to prove cohabitation in California:

  1. Gather Documentation: Collect documents that show both individuals residing at the same address. This can include lease or rental agreements, utility bills, bank statements, and official correspondence with both names at the shared address.
  2. Joint Financial Accounts: If the couple shares joint bank accounts, credit cards, or other financial accounts, provide copies of account statements that indicate both parties are using the same account.
  3. Shared Responsibilities: Show that both individuals are contributing to household expenses and responsibilities. This could involve presenting evidence of shared expenses for rent, groceries, household bills, and other living costs.
  4. Affidavits and Witness Testimony: Affidavits from friends, family members, or neighbors who can attest to the couple’s living situation and relationship can be valuable evidence. Witness testimony can help establish the nature of the couple’s cohabitation.
  5. Social Media and Online Presence: Screen captures or printouts of social media profiles or online accounts that depict the couple’s relationship status and interactions may support the claim of cohabitation.
  6. Photos and Videos: Provide photographs or videos of the couple together in domestic settings, family gatherings, or significant life events to demonstrate the nature of their relationship.

Can you get married in California if you are not a resident?

Yes, you can get married in California even if you are not a resident of the state. California does not have a residency requirement for marriage.

Whether you are a resident of California, another U.S. state, or even a foreign country, you can still obtain a marriage license and have a legal marriage ceremony in California.

To get married in California as a non-resident, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Obtain a Marriage License: Both you and your partner must appear in person at a county clerk’s office in California to apply for a marriage license. You will need to provide valid identification (such as a passport or driver’s license) and pay the required fee.
  2. Wait for the Waiting Period: After obtaining the marriage license, California has a waiting period of 24 hours before you can have the marriage ceremony. This means you cannot get married on the same day you obtain the license.
  3. Choose an Officiant: You can have a licensed California minister, priest, rabbi, or authorized individual officiate your wedding ceremony. You can also consider a non-denominational wedding officiant or a judge.


Understanding the legal implications of cohabitation is crucial, especially for couples who believe they may be in a common law marriage.

In California, common law marriage is not recognized, and the only valid method of marriage involves obtaining a marriage license and having a formal ceremony.

It is essential to consult with a family law attorney to navigate any legal concerns and ensure compliance with the state’s marriage laws.

Always stay informed about any changes in California’s legal landscape regarding marriage to avoid any potential misunderstandings or misconceptions.

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