State-recognized common law wives and husbands have the same rights that spouses in traditional marriages have, including the right to collect Social Security benefits and inherit property, reports Nolo. Common law couples can also file joint tax returns, adds About.com. They must dissolve their marriages by divorce or annulment, and state laws of child custody and child support apply to the union.
To receive Social Security dependent benefits, spouses in common law marriages must submit statements affirming the marriage from themselves and blood relatives from both sides of the union, according to Nolo. If one spouse dies, the other spouse needs statements from two relatives of the decedent spouse to claim survivor's benefits. Divorced common law spouses also qualify for dependent or survivor's benefits as long as they meet other standard qualifications.
Only a minority of states allows common law marriages, and a number of other states do not allow new common law marriages but recognize those that couples established within certain time periods, explains Nolo. However, all states that do not allow common law marriages recognize those that couples establish in states where they are legal. To establish common law marriage in states that allow it, couples must have the intent to marry, consider themselves married, identify themselves as married to the community, and live together. Most states do not specify the amount of time couples must be together before their common law marriage is legal.