The Myth of “Common Law” Marriage

Melissa DossDivorce, Lawyer, Partnership agreement

I was recently asked about common law marriage in Kentucky, specifically about what it takes to get a divorce. If you asked almost anybody, they would say that people are considered married if they live in the same household for a certain number of years. In Kentucky, that just isn’t the case.

Common law marriage goes all the way back to the time of knights and chivalry. Back then, couples that swore their vows to one another were considered married. They didn’t need a marriage license or the state to recognize their union. It was just accepted that they were together. This unwritten law is what we now consider to be “common law”.

Kentucky followed this tradition up until it started writing down it’s laws. In 1852, Kentucky no longer recognized “common law” marriage. Those people that had a common law marriage had to get a marriage license in order to keep all of the benefits a legally married couple would have.

The problem with the ongoing belief in Common Law marriage comes when couples split. Cohabitation does not guarantee an individual the same rights that marriage does. The one big exception to this comes when a couple shared a “Common Law” marriage in one of the last remaining states to honor it. In those cases, Kentucky courts generally honor the union.

What does all this mean? Generally speaking, if there is no “Partnership Agreement”, you will need a lawyer to protect your rights.