If you're in a common law marriage, that means that you and your spouse are legally recognized as married even though you never got a marriage license or had a wedding ceremony. But you'll still need to prove that you meet the requirements for a valid common law marriage. And these days, only a few states recognize common law marriage. Read on to see how New York State views common law marriages.
Common law marriage hasn't been legal in New York since 1933.
You must meet all of the following requirements in order to be legally married in New York:
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law §§ 5, 6, 11, 13, 13-b, 15-a (2023).)
When you apply for a marriage license, you'll have to present some form of identification, such as a certified copy of your birth certificate or a driver's license. If you were previously married, you'll also have to provide proof of how the marriage ended. You should contact your town or city clerk to see what documents they'll need in order to satisfy the state and local requirements.
The New York State Department of Health has more information on marriage requirements on its website.
If you've met the requirements for a common law marriage while living in another state, New York will recognize your relationship as a legal marriage. Under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, every state must give "full faith and credit" to another state's public acts, records, and judicial proceedings.
The rules for proving a valid common law marriage vary from state to state. So if you moved to New York after establishing a common law marriage in a state that recognizes these marriages, you should speak with a family law attorney from that state to learn how you can prove your relationship met the requirements.
That said, you'll typically need to prove that:
There isn't one magic factor that automatically qualifies a relationship as a common law marriage. It's really how the couple generally live their life together that makes the difference.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in all 50 states since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Obergefell case in 2015. (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015).) Other courts have held that this decision applies equally to common law marriages between same-sex couples.
Once New York recognizes your common law marriage from another state as valid, you have the same rights and responsibilities as any other married couple, such as tax benefits and the right to inherit from your spouse's estate.
And if you want to legally end the relationship, you can't just walk away. You'd have to file for divorce. If you do get divorced, however, you have the right to an equitable division of your property and debts, and either of you may request alimony.
Note that even when your relationship doesn't qualify as a common law marriage, you might be protected by state contract or tort laws if you and your partner have other kinds of disputes (such as disagreements over property rights). And if you're a victim of abuse, it doesn't matter whether you have a valid common law marriage—you're still entitled to legal protection under New York's domestic violence laws as long as you've been in an intimate relationship with your abuser.
If you have children but aren't in a valid common law marriage with the other parent, you still have rights regarding your kids. You're entitled to go to court to ask a judge to make decisions about child support, custody, and visitation. You also have the right to have the court determine paternity, if that's an issue.
If you established a common law marriage while living in another state, the only way to have your marriage legally accepted in New York is to prove that you met that other state's requirements for valid common law marriages. That could be a daunting task, because a judge's decision on the issue will depend on the specific circumstances in your situation.
The exact evidence you'll need to prove you have a valid common law marriage will depend on the laws of the state where you established the relationship. But here are some general examples of evidence that may help:
Even if you established your common law marriage in a state that's a significant distance from New York, it shouldn't be too difficult to get documents from the other state. But it could be problematic if the judge requires witnesses who live in the other state to testify in New York.
As you can see, proving the existence of a common law marriage can be a complicated process. So you'd be well advised to at least consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney if you're facing this challenge.