Marriage vs. Common Law: What it Means Financially

The A&M TeamFamily Law

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For some people, the decision to get married is a financial one. There are numerous financial benefits that couples who are married or have entered into a common law union can benefit from. If you and your partner are in a committed relationship but for whatever reason do not want to officially get married, you can still reap the financial benefits of married couples by choosing to live together in a common law relationship. However, the law does not treat these unions quite the same as a legal marriage and common law couples do not have all the same rights as married couples. Additionally, the law is different in every state and it is important to be aware of how Oklahoma treats common law relationships before you make this important decision. There are numerous distinctions between the rights of married spouses in Oklahoma and the rights of common law spouses, and our knowledgeable team of lawyers is here to help ensure you understand both sides.

What a ‘Common Law Marriage’ Meanscommon-law-marriage

When a couple is ‘common law married’, it means they are recognized by the state as legally married, even though they never received a marriage license and never went through a civil or religious service. In the United States, only 10 states and the District of Columbia recognize common law marriages. Each state has specific, detailed requirements that must be met in order to be recognized. The following states allow for and acknowledge common law unions: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

‘Grandfathered’ Common Law Unions

commonlaw_marriageIn addition to the above listed states, there are a handful of states that have ‘grandfathered’ common law marriages, one of which is Oklahoma. In these states, only couples who meet the state requirements for a common law union by a specific date will be recognized. For Oklahoma residents, this date is November 1, 1998. It should be noted that while not every U.S. state recognizes common law marriages, all states will respect and recognize a common law marriage that was obtained in another state. In a nutshell, if you and your spouse are common law married in Colorado but relocate to Oklahoma, your marriage will still stand.

 

The Finance

financial statement with calculator and penBefore you decide whether or not a common law marriage is the right choice for both you and your partner, it is important to look at the financial benefits (or lack thereof). Financial stress is one of the main reasons couples argue and is one of the leading causes of divorce in the U.S. Because of this, it is crucial that both parties understand their legal rights and benefits as a common law couple. Some of the top financial benefits afforded to couples who are common law married include the following:

  • Able to qualify for employer benefits through your spouse
  • Eligible to receive Social Security survival and spousal benefits
  • Exempt from the ‘gift tax’
  • Unlimited marital exemption for your estate
  • Both parties are able to claim deductions for mortgage interest, if you co-own a home

These financial benefits are all things that will help you save money throughout the year, which is one of the great benefits of getting married. However, it is important to note that there are also some potential downsides of entering into a common law marriage. To learn more about the above listed benefits and, on the other side, the risks of common law marriage, please contact our law firm today.