Published on: July 28, 2023

Does New York Recognize Common Law Marriage?

Marriage is a legally binding union between two individuals, but what happens when a couple has been living together for a long time without getting legally married? This is where the concept of common law marriage comes in. However, in New York, common law marriages are not recognized. This means that even if you’ve been living with your partner for years, you don’t have the same legal rights and protection as a legally married couple.

If you’re in a common law marriage and want to ensure that your rights and assets are protected, it’s important to speak with a skilled New York family law attorney. New York family lawyer Juan Luciano may be able to help you understand your legal options and guide you through the process of creating a cohabitation agreement or other legal arrangements that can provide you with the protections and benefits that come with marriage. Call us today at (212) 537-5859 to schedule a consultation.

Many couples enjoy committed relationships without the benefit of a legal marriage. But are these relationships recognized in the state of New York as common-law marriages?

What Exactly is the Definition of a Common Law Marriage?

In some states, common-law marriages are legally recognized between people who have formed committed relationships but have not gone through the formality of a marriage license and ceremony. While common-law marriages are legally recognized in a few states, the state of New York is not one of them.

Even in common law states, however, those who have lived together for many years, even if they share children and have decided to share a surname, are not legally recognized as “married” under common law unless they have met certain requirements. In most cases, a marriage is considered a legal common law marriage only if both partners agree to and behave as if they are married. In those states where it is legal, if the requirements of a common-law marriage have been fulfilled, the state affords you all or most of the same legal rights as those who are married.

New York eliminated common-law marriages in 1933. In the case where you have lived in a common-law state and have moved to the state of New York, your marriage will be recognized as legal here. But you first must have formed a common-law marriage under the former state’s laws to be recognized in New York.

What is Required to Be Legally Married in New York?

In the state of New York, there are specific requirements that must be met in order for you to become legally married. You must

  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • If you are 16 or 17 years of age, you may marry with parental consent. 14 and 15-year-olds may marry if they have both parental consent and the authorization of a judge.
  • You are not married to another individual.
  • You have proven your identity with the proper documentation.
  • You are not marrying a close relative.
  • You have purchased a marriage license and have waited for the 24-hour waiting period. This waiting period may be waived in an emergency.

A legal marriage in New York must be made official by some type of ceremony involving clergy or a civil official. Both spouses will then sign a contract of marriage which is a legally binding agreement.

Divorce From Common Law Marriage

If a couple is not legally married, New York does not recognize them as married, and they cannot get a divorce. This means they may not be able to claim spousal support, division of property, or any other rights that married couples have. However, child custody and support are handled the same, whether the couple is married or unmarried. The only difference is that child custody and support are handled in New York Family Court instead of New York Supreme Court as part of a divorce. 

Common-law marriage attorney in Manhattan

When a couple is unmarried, paternity must be established by an acknowledgment of paternity or a previously handled adoption. If there is disagreement about paternity, a petition must be filed to request a legal determination. Clients may also consider using a private judge to resolve their custody and child support cases, as family court is a highly visible and highly populated venue. 

Asset division in an unmarried divorce can be challenging because it can be difficult to prove who paid for certain items, whether joint funds were used, or whether one partner paid the other for their share. Jointly owned assets and debts are presumed to be held with a 50/50 ownership stake by both parties unless there is a written cohabitation agreement to the contrary. If one partner made a larger contribution to the property than the other, the distribution could be skewed based on those facts. 

New York law does not also allow alimony for common law marriages. However, New York does allow support when there is an explicit written cohabitation agreement establishing a plan for spousal support.

Topics Details
Common Law Marriage Not recognized in New York. Even long-term cohabitation does not confer marital rights.
Common Law Marriages from Other States Recognized in New York if they were formed under laws of a state that does recognize such marriages.
Legal Marriage Requirements in New York Must be 18 or older (or have parental/judicial consent if younger), not married to someone else, not closely related, and have a ceremony after a 24-hour waiting period post-license issuance.
Divorce from Common Law Marriage Not possible in New York because the state does not recognize common law marriages.

How Many Years Is Common Law Marriage

In New York, common-law marriage is not recognized for couples who establish their relationships within its borders. Irrespective of the duration of cohabitation or the couple’s personal belief in their marital status, New York does not grant legal recognition to common-law marriages without the presence of a valid marriage license and an official ceremony.

Unlike some states that acknowledge common-law marriages after a certain period of time, New York follows a different approach. The absence of a legal framework for common-law marriage implies that couples residing in New York must fulfill the requirements set forth by the state.

It is essential for couples in New York to be aware of this distinction to protect their legal rights and obligations. Without a valid marriage, individuals may not be entitled to certain benefits and protections provided by the state to married couples. Examples include inheritance rights, healthcare decision-making authority, and spousal support in the event of separation or divorce.

Therefore, those considering a long-term committed relationship in New York should consult with legal professionals to understand the specific requirements and implications associated with marriage in order to ensure their rights are appropriately recognized and protected under the law. A skilled New York  family law attorney can provide essential legal advice and support. An experienced attorney can help protect your rights, navigate complex legal issues, and ensure that your interests are properly addressed.

What About Domestic Partnerships?

Domestic partnerships are legal relationships in New York for couples who have a committed relationship but are not legally married. These are not the same as a common-law marriage, and a domestic partnership must be registered in the state of New York for the couple to have legal rights. But it is important to note that the rights of domestic partners are not the same as those of legally married couples in New York.

Now that the state of New York legally recognizes same-sex marriages, many couples who only had the option for domestic partnerships can now be legally married.

New York Common Law Marriage Laws

Common-law marriage was eliminated by New York lawmakers decades ago. This means that you cannot create a new common-law marriage while you and your spouse live in New York. If you are a resident of a different state and meet all the criteria for common law marriage, New York might recognize you as a legal couple when you move to the state. New York recognizes valid marriages that were created in another state, even common-law marriages. This is under the United States Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause which says that other states must respect the judicial decisions of another state.

Therefore, New York will recognize your common-law marriage if you and your spouse spent some time in a different state where common-law marriages are valid and formed this type of union. There are different legal requirements for forming common-law marriages. To give your marriage full faith and credit in New York, you must enter into a common-law marriage in accordance with the laws of the state before New York. You can only create a new marriage by pursuing a ceremonial marriage while in New York.

Speaking to an experienced New York family law attorney may be able to help you gain more insight into how the state of New York handles common-law marriages. Attorney Juan Luciano is an experienced attorney who can assist you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at (212) 537-5859.

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