Legal Blog

The Weekly Scenario: Do we have a common law marriage?


We have lived together as husband and wife in Maryland for many years but have never had a ceremony nor applied for a marriage license.  Do we have a common law marriage?


A ‘common law’ marriage is one in which the parties generally hold themselves out as husband and wife, and in certain circumstances, are considered married without a ceremony or blessing by the state (marriage license). The State of Maryland does not allow the creation of a common law marriage where a couple lives together but has not participated in a lawful ceremony.  Unlike some other states, a Maryland couple cannot acquire marital rights and responsibilities simply by living together and holding themselves out as a married couple. In contrast for example, D.C. has long recognized common law marriages.  In D.C., common law marriage comes with cohabitation as husband and wife following an express mutual agreement.  Although there is no set formula required for the agreement, it must be an unambiguous exchange of words which clearly shows the intention to become ‘husband and wife’ at the time of the mutual consent. Comment:  The State of Maryland, along with other states that would otherwise not recognize common law marriages, will recognize as valid, common law marriages created in other states assuming the legal requirements of those states have been met. As always, if you have questions or would like to know more about estate planning please contact Steven E. Shane at: Steve Shane Head Shot for | 301.575.0313. Steve provides strategic counseling to clients in need of estate administration, charitable giving and business continuity planning while minimizing estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exposure. He offers legal guidance to clients on asset protection and the proper disposition of assets in accordance with the client’s objectives, while employing tax planning techniques such as the use of irrevocable trusts, life insurance planning, lifetime gifts and charitable trust. He is also experienced with drafting documents for business planning, the incorporation and application for exemption for Private Foundations and the administration of decedents’ estates. You can also connect with Offit Kurman via FacebookTwitterGoogle+YouTube, and LinkedIn.