Breaking up is hard to do, as hard for common-law partners as for those married in a church. The common law allowed two people to declare themselves married without the help of court or clergy. A few states still recognize these unions as legal marriages and allow such couples to divorce. Most states do not, however, and common-law couples either tailor individual separation agreements or battle it out in the courts.
Common Law Marriage States
The process of separation after a common-law marriage depends on whether your state recognizes common-law marriages as legal marriages. States like Colorado and Texas allow these marriages, and common-law couples proceed through the divorce courts to obtain a legal end to their union. Some states that do not permit common-law marriages still permit common-law partners to divorce if they were married in a state where the union was legal.
Separating in Other States
If you were married in a state that does not recognize common-law marriages, you probably do not have access to its divorce courts. Your road can be easier or harder, depending on whether you are able to effect an amicable separation agreement. If you can, the agreement controls your separation. If not, you must battle out property and custody issues in state court without the protection and structure of divorce laws.