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Campbell Family Lawyer > Blog > Family Law > Are Common Law Marriages Legally Recognized In California?

Are Common Law Marriages Legally Recognized In California?


Today, families come in many different forms. While some couples cannot wait to walk down the aisle and say their “I do’s,” for others, it is simply not necessary. Couples in this latter group may still purchase real estate with their significant other, and they may even refer to each other as their spouse. Without a formal and legal marriage being established, though, what rights do these unmarried couples have? Below, our Campbell family law attorney explains further.

Common Law Marriages vs. Domestic Partnerships

Common law marriages are not recognized under California law. States such as Colorado, Iowa, and Montana are just a few that recognize common law marriages. In these states, couples are considered common law when they meet certain requirements, such as living together for a specific period of time, combining financial, and other criteria. California does not have such a law. Still, the Golden State does recognize domestic partnerships.

State law defines a domestic partnership as two people who have made the decision to share in each other’s lives in a committed and intimate relationship of mutual support and caring. By registering a domestic partnership, couples have the same legal rights and duties that are granted to and imposed upon married spouses.

Marital Rights for the Unwed

When a couple does not have a registered domestic partnership and they decide to go their separate ways, things can become very complicated. Without a written agreement or a domestic partnership, unwed couples do not have the same rights as married couples.

In these instances, the court will presume that each person owns their own assets and debts, unless there has been a deliberate commingling of assets. For example, when a couple uses a joint bank account, the court will determine that it belongs to each partner equally.

Additionally, when an unwed couple has a child together, it can also make breaking up more complex. This is particularly true when one partner’s name is not on the birth certificate. In these situations, the parentage of the child must be legally established. Only once parentage has been established do partners have the right to child custody or child support.

It is a common misconception that when people are not married, they do not have any rights if they separate at some point in the future. This is not always true, but unwed couples do carry much more risk when they do not have a registered domestic partnership. A Campbell family law attorney can advise on your situation and help ensure that you are protected.

Contact Our Family Law Attorney in Campbell for Help with Your Case

If you and your partner live like married spouses but are not wed and you want the protection of a written agreement, or you are worried about your rights now that you are splitting up, our Campbell family law attorney can help. At Hepner & Pagan, LLP, we understand the varied nature of families today and can provide the sound legal advice you need for your situation. Call us now at 408-429-8336 or contact us online to speak to one of our knowledgeable attorneys.



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