Common Law Divorces in California

By Heather Frances J.D.

There is no such thing as common law divorce, so California law does not consider you divorced if you are legally married but attempt to divorce by simply separating and saying you are divorced. In fact, California recognizes neither common law marriage, in which a couple becomes married by living together and saying they are married but never formally marrying, nor common law divorce, in which a couple might simply split up without obtaining a divorce through the legal system.

California Marriage

Like the majority of states, California does not allow its residents to contract common law marriages. No matter how long you live together or how often you tell others you are married, California does not recognize you as married unless you first obtain a marriage license from a California county clerk and are married in front of at least one witness by someone authorized to perform marriages.

Common Law Marriage

Though California does not permit common law marriage, it does recognize the validity of common law marriages created in other states. Historically, common law marriage developed before modern marriage laws, often in isolated places where it was difficult for couples to travel to a judge or pastor to solemnize their marriage. Only nine states recognize common law marriage: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas. If you have a valid common law marriage in one of these states and then move to California, California recognizes the marriage; thus, you are eligible to get a legal divorce in California.

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California Divorce

There is no such thing as common law divorce, but California courts grant divorces, called a dissolution of marriage. The only recognized grounds for divorce in California are irreconcilable differences that have caused a permanent breakdown of the marriage and incurable insanity. Traditional fault-based grounds for divorce, such as adultery or cruelty, do not exist in California. In your divorce, the court has authority to divide your marital property, determine child custody arrangements and order payments of child support and spousal support.


California recognizes limited “palimony” rights when unmarried partners split. If you never married, and are thus unable to divorce, a California court may nonetheless enforce promises your partner made about what would happen if you split. For example, if your partner promised you half of the house, even though it is completely in his name, the court may enforce that promise, particularly if you lived together for a long period of time and both made contributions to the house.

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Cohabitation Laws for Divorced Couples in Kansas


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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 remarry, they often do so in the traditional manner, which involves obtaining a marriage license and participating in a ceremony before a judge or religious official. However, some spouses opt for common law marriage, which doesn't involve these formalities. Alabama is one of only a few states that recognizes common law marriages, but it takes more than simply living together for three months to create one.

Tennessee Cohabitation Agreements

Cohabitation -- individuals living together outside marriage -- is a growing trend in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 500,000 couples cohabited in 1970, while that the number rose to 5.5 million in 2000. Although cohabitation was illegal in many states in America in the 20th century, there are only a small number of holdouts at the time of publication. There is no prohibition against cohabitation in Tennessee. A cohabitation agreement doesn't give you the same rights as married people, but it can assist you in many ways whether you stay together or end your relationship.

Connecticut Divorce Law and Domestic Partners

Domestic partnerships, known as civil unions in Connecticut, no longer exist as such in the state. In 2009, the Connecticut legislature passed a law treating same-sex couples who entered into civil unions before October 1, 2010 as married as of that date. Since that time, same-sex couples may obtain divorces in Connecticut under the same rules that govern heterosexual divorces.

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