How to Avoid Common Law Marriage

Dear Mr. Premack: I am widowed for several years and have recently moved in with a man. We don’t want to be married because that would affect our income. What is “common law marriage” and how does it happen? – M.V.

Common law marriage is the valid legal relationship of two people as husband and wife. It happens when two people agree to be married, then live together as husband and wife and tell other people that they are married.

No ceremony takes place and no license is issued, so proving the existence of the marriage can be difficult. If you stood to gain by being married, you could file a “declaration of informal marriage” with the county clerk. If you stand to lose by being married, then never “agree” that you are married and never tell anyone else that you are married.

Original Publication: San Antonio Express News, May 11, 1990