Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma

Learn how Oklahoma views common law marriage, and what it takes to prove your relationship qualifies.

By , Retired Judge
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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 in your state. Read on to see how that works in Oklahoma.

Does Common Law Marriage Still Exist in Oklahoma?

Common law marriage is legal in Oklahoma. Even though the number of states that recognize common law marriage has dramatically declined over the years, Oklahoma hasn't abolished the practice.

What Rights Do I Have in a Common Law Marriage?

If you have a valid common law marriage in Oklahoma, you have the same rights and responsibilities as any married couple, including tax treatment, employment benefits, the right to inherit from your spouse's estate, and the right to a share of marital property if you get divorced (more on that below).

What Are the Requirements for Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma?

Some people believe that you have a common law marriage if you've lived together for a certain period of time. Not so. There isn't one magic factor that automatically qualifies a relationship as a common law marriage, nor is there a law in Oklahoma that defines and establishes the rules for common law marriage.

But Oklahoma courts have set out some of the criteria for common law marriages. As a general rule, in order for a court to determine that a relationship qualifies, a judge must find that the couple:

  • had an actual and mutual agreement to be married
  • have been in an exclusive and "permanent" relationship
  • have lived together as spouses, and
  • hold themselves out to the public as a married couple.

(Estate of Phifer, 629 P.2d 808 (Okla. Civ. App. 1981).)

How Do I Prove I Have a Valid Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma?

You may have to file a legal or administrative proceeding to have your common law marriage recognized, such as when:

  • you file for divorce but your partner claims you were never married, or
  • your partner died without a will naming you as beneficiary, and you need to prove in probate court that you're entitled to inherit as a surviving spouse.

In Oklahoma, you must prove the validity of a common law marriage by clear and convincing evidence. (Standefer v. Standefer, 26 P.3d 104 (2001).) Basically, this means that your evidence must be strong enough to convince the judge that what you're claiming is highly likely to be true—not just more likely than not (as in most civil cases), but not necessarily "beyond a reasonable doubt" (as in criminal cases).

Here are some examples of evidence that might help to prove a valid common law marriage in Oklahoma:

  • a written agreement or other document signed by both partners declaring your intention to marry
  • affidavits or testimony in court from you or your partner (ideally both) swearing to the existence of your informal marriage, explaining the nature of your relationship, and describing actions you took that demonstrated your intention to be married (such as exchanging rings and celebrating anniversaries)
  • affidavits or testimony from friends, family, or neighbors explaining their knowledge of your relationship, your living arrangements, and your reputation in the community as a married couple, including whether you participated in community activities as a family and referred to each other as "husband," "wife," or "spouse"
  • financial statements from any joint bank or credit accounts
  • tax returns that you filed as a married couple
  • leases, deeds, or mortgage documents showing that you jointly held property
  • insurance, employment, or other benefit forms or policies listing your partner as your spouse
  • school records, birth certificates, or religious records like baptismal certificates that list both partners as a child's parents, and
  • documents showing that you or your children assumed your partner's last name.

There's no specific period of time a couple has to be together before a common law marriage might be considered valid. But the longer you and your partner have lived together and acted like a married couple, the easier it will be to prove you've had a permanent relationship.

Common Law Marriage and Same-Sex Couples in Oklahoma

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015)), Oklahoma courts should recognize same-sex common law marriages under the same standards applied to opposite-sex couples.

That said, same-sex couples may face extra hurdles in proving they have a common law marriage if their relationship began prior to the Obergefell decision. That's because they may not have as much evidence available to them as other couples to prove that their relationship qualifies.

For instance, these couples didn't have the option to file joint tax returns or list their partner as their spouse on many official documents before same-sex marriage was legalized. They may also have been more reluctant to hold themselves out to the community as a married couple. This doesn't mean they won't ever be able to prove their case, just that it could be more of an uphill climb.

How to End a Common Law Marriage

If you want to legally end a common law marriage in Oklahoma, you can't just walk away. You'd have to file for divorce, just as you would in any marriage. If you do get divorced, you'll have the right to an equitable division of your marital property, and either of you may request alimony.

What Are My Rights Without a Common Law Marriage?

Even if Oklahoma doesn't recognize your relationship as a valid common law marriage, that doesn't necessarily mean you have no legal rights or responsibilities concerning that relationship. For example:

  • If you have children with your unmarried partner, you're both legally obligated to support the kids. So if you split up, you have the right to establish your children's paternity and ask the court to issue orders for child support, child custody, and visitation.
  • If you and your partner have other kinds of disputes (such as disagreements over property rights), you may be protected by state contract or tort laws.
  • If you're a victim of abuse, it doesn't matter whether you have a valid common law marriage or not—you're still entitled to legal protection.

Getting Help Proving You Have a Common Law Marriage

Proving the existence of a common law marriage could be a daunting task. A judge's decision will depend on the specific circumstances in your case—and what might appear to be a subjective interpretation of those circumstances. So it's important how you present your case to the judge and whether you follow all the court rules and procedures.

For a lay person, this generally adds a level of difficulty and anxiety to an already stressful situation. So you'd be well advised to at least consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney in advance.

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