Does Common Law Marriage Still Exist in California?

When describing a couple who lives together without being married, people may use the term common law husband or wife. This refers to a centuries-old legal practice that started in Europe and still in use in some countries, as well as a few US states. Though California is not one of those states, that isn’t to say that some protections for unmarried couples who live together are absent. In this article, we’ll discuss what common law marriage is and what are the specific laws and practices in the state regarding it.

Common Law Marriage

Although some use this term to describe any couple who live together without being legally married, they need to meet certain stipulations. For instance, the couple not only has to act like they’re married, they must also present themselves to the world as a married couple and usually have the intent to legally marry in the future. Under these conditions in jurisdictions that recognize common law marriage, if a separation or death of one of the spouses occurs, they would have the same or similar rights they would have if they were legally married. Again, the state of California does not recognize common law spouses and does not automatically provide rights or protections upon separation or death.

Marvin Claims

The state of California does have a loophole in this case. “Palimony” (also known as “Marvin Claims” after a famous case involving Lee Marvin and former live-in partner Michelle Triola Marvin) is an arrangement where one of the two can sue for damages under one of two conditions.

  • A written contract: Just because a couple isn’t legally married doesn’t mean that they can’t have a written contract in the areas of joint property or even financial support. If such a contract exists, it may spell out the arrangement in detail. If not, legal experts can come in to negotiate a settlement or the courts may make the decision.
  • An implied contract: While not impossible to prove, implied or verbal contracts can present problems in proving their validity. However, it’s necessary to investigate multiple questions to prove or disprove the claim. These may include issues such as did the couple buy property together, have joint bank accounts, pool their money for large purchases, have credit cards together and were they paying each other’s bills or debts? The courts may also consider why they were never married as a way to shed light on the true nature of their relationship.

Child Custody

Up to this point, we’ve mainly discussed money and property, but what about any children that the couple may have had? Thankfully, the civil status of the parents has no bearing on what happens to any children they have. This includes the custody of the children as a whole as well as visitation rights.

Child Support

Just like with child custody, child support has nothing to do with whether or not the parents are or were ever married. This comes down to the simple fact that the support is the right of the child and not the parent they live with. The total amount paid in child support is based solely on the state guidelines that take into account the parents’ income and how much time each parent spends with the child.

Any relationship that ends, whether by choice or by death, can be painful and complicated, though even more so if the separation causes major financial hardships to one of the parties. The major lesson is that if a couple chooses not to marry, it would still be a good idea to have some sort of contract, so as to protect all involved.