When most people get married, they go to the courthouse to get a marriage license and then they host family and friends at a wedding. This is traditional, or "ceremonial" marriage. But in some places, people can be legally married even though they didn't get a license or have a wedding, simply by virtue of the fact that they believe they're married and they act accordingly. This is known as common law, or "non-ceremonial," marriage.
Most American jurisdictions don't allow common law marriage, but a minority of states do. New Hampshire doesn't allow people to form new common law marriages, and it only recognizes common law marriage in limited circumstances that won't apply to many couples.
New Hampshire doesn't allow people to create common law marriages in a way that entitles couples to benefit from most marriage laws and to appear in court as a married couple. However, the General Court of New Hampshire (which is the official title of New Hampshire's bicameral state legislature) has carved out a unique twist in its marriage laws. Even though the state doesn't allow people to form common law marriages, it will recognize them for purposes of inheritance.
The rule is this: if you and your spouse live together for at least three years and one of you dies, you can file a legal action to get your fair share of your deceased partner's assets if the following three statements are true:
If all of these statements are true, and you or your spouse die, the court will recognize your relationship as marital and the rule will be triggered. The surviving spouse can then attempt to secure a fair share of the decedent's (dead spouse's) estate. This is the only way in which New Hampshire will recognize new common law relationships that began within its borders.
If you began a non-ceremonial marriage in a state that allows common law marriage, you can invoke the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution, which requires courts of all other states to recognize your marriage. This means that the New Hampshire courts have to recognize your common law marriage as fully legal and valid. Therefore, if you established a valid common law marriage in another state and it ends while you reside in New Hampshire, you'll have to go through a formal divorce, divide up your assets and liabilities, and make decisions about custody and visitation, just like couples who have ceremonial marriages.
Even if you're unmarried, you have significant rights. If you have children with a current or former romantic partner, you can go to court and ask a judge to make decisions about paternity, child support, health insurance, custody, and visitation. If you and your partner or ex-partner have other kinds of disputes, you may also be protected by New Hampshire's contract or tort laws. Finally, if you are a victim of abuse or harassment, you're always entitled to legal protection.
New marriages in New Hampshire can only be created through a ceremony. To marry, you must first go to a city or town clerk of court and fill out an application for a marriage license. You can get the application no matter where you live, and there's no waiting period to marry once you have a license. Marriage licenses are good for 90 days from the date they're filed—if you don't marry within 90 days, you have to get another license.
When you appear before the clerk, you have to provide a photo ID and proof of your age (usually through a driver's license, passport, or birth certificate) so the clerk knows that you are who you claim to be and that you're old enough to marry. If you're under 18, you'll need parental consent or a signed waiver from a judge before you can marry.
If you're widowed or divorced, you have to bring a copy of your spouse's death certificate or a final divorce order. This will prove that you're not still married to someone else and you're legally entitled to marry again.
Once you have your license, you need to complete a wedding ceremony, and your wedding has to be "solemnized," or made official, by a justice of the peace, an ordained minister, a judge, or any civil or clerical official who's legally authorized to perform weddings.