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What is a common law spouse?

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Quick Answer

Two people who have entered into a common law marriage are considered common law spouses. Though only a few states in the United States recognize common law marriages, they are a way for a couple to be considered married without having a ceremony or obtaining a marriage license.

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Full Answer

Common law marriages have been legal in the United States since the late 1870s. While they do provide many couples with an alternative to the traditional idea of a wedding ceremony, only 10 states still have laws to recognize common law marriages if all of the criteria are met, as of 2015. Additionally, five more states no longer recognize new common law marriages but continue to keep those on the books that were recognized before the laws were repealed.

There is a significant list of requirements that need to be met for common law spouses. Couples who wish to enter common law marriages must live together for a certain period of time (varying by state); both be over 18, of sound mind and body, and not be currently married; each want to marry the other individual; and act as and consider themselves married (such having joint financial accounts or referring to each other as spouses).

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