California's Laws About a Common-Law Wife

By Jim Thomas

There are a number of myths about common-law marriages. For example, some people think that you must cohabit with a person for a minimum number of years to be considered a common-law wife; however, the fact is that not a single state has a designated time period. Further, some people are under the impression that common-law marriages are recognized in most, if not all, states, but the reality is that most states, including California, don't allow common-law marriages. Nonetheless, there are several circumstances in which a woman in California can be either recognized as a common-law wife or treated as if she were one in regard to certain financial issues.

Common-Law Marriage Requirements

The states that recognize common-law marriage vary in their requirements. For example, in Alabama you must have the capacity, in terms of age and mental ability, to enter into a marriage. You also must agree that you are husband and wife and consummate the relationship. If you live in the District of Columbia, you must express the intent to be married and live together. In general, states that recognize common-law marriages require that you live together and "hold out," a term that means you hold yourselves out to the world as a married couple. Actions such as taking your partner's last name and filing joint tax returns serve as evidence that you consider yourself married as common-law husband and wife.

Recognizing Common-Law Marriages

California, and every other state, will recognize your status as a common-law wife if you met the qualifications for one in another state prior to your move to California. This status enables you to claim your share of assets acquired during the common-law relationship. These assets are treated as the equivalent of community property if your relationship ends, often referred to as quasi-community property or quasi-marital property.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Palimony

In a landmark 1976 case, the California Supreme Court denied actor Lee Marvin's long-time live-in girlfriend "palimony" when their relationship ended. However, the court recognized that palimony could be grounds for a monetary award in other circumstances. In a palimony suit, also known as a "Marvin claim," partners who aren't married have the right to enforce an express or implied agreement, written or oral, for support or an equitable division of property when the couple parts. In fact, if a couple were together for a substantial period, acquired assets together during that period and then married, the wife could file both a Marvin claim and a petition for divorce if she decides to end the relationship.

Putative Wives

Under California Family Code Section 2251, you can be declared a "putative" wife if you believed your marriage was valid under California law, even if you later discover the wedding was never official. For example, if your husband was already married to someone else, your marriage is void. However, if you found out about the other woman 10 years after marrying, a court can declare you a putative spouse. You then can ask the court to divide your marital property as if it is community property.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
What Happens if You Marry Someone Who Was Not Legally Divorced?

References

Related articles

Do You Have to Be Separated in Indiana Before You Get Divorced?

While you do not need to be separated from your spouse prior to filing for divorce, you must live separately from your spouse for a minimum of 60 days before the court will grant the divorce. In addition, there are several requirements before you can file for divorce in Indiana. For example, you or your spouse must live in Indiana for at least six months and you or your spouse must live in the county where you file the divorce petition for at least three months.

The Limitations for Getting an Annulment

Very few couples can annul their marriages -- it's usually much simpler to divorce instead. In most states, annulment is confined to very specific grounds and deadlines – and you can't get an annulment simply because you were married for only a short period of time unless other factors exist. An annulment voids your marriage as if it never existed, and this sometimes imposes additional limitations.

Can a Common Law Wife Claim Widow's Benefits?

Marriage determines eligibility for many government and insurance benefits, and most spouses have little trouble proving their marriage with a marriage certificate. However, marriage doesn’t always require a government-issued license and certificate. In a few states, couples can marry informally, creating a common law marriage. Generally, one spouse can collect benefits when the other spouse dies if their relationship met the requirements for common law marriage in their state.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Divorce Laws in the Air Force

The divorce of a service member, whether in the Air Force or any other branch of the military, is handled in a civilian ...

I Am in North Carolina & My Wife Is in California: Can I Still Get a Divorce?

When you live in North Carolina and your wife lives in California, you can still get a divorce. However, certain ...

How do I Get an Annulment in Indiana?

Divorces effectively sever the legal relationship between a couple, thus Indiana courts have the authority to fairly ...

If We Divorce & Then Live Together for 3 Months, Are We Considered Married By Common Law in Alabama?

Sometimes, divorced couples decide to try again. They might date, live together and even remarry. For couples who ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED