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Common-Law Marriages in NY

Posted on January 28, 2020

Common-law marriage is the concept that if a couple lives together for long enough (some say seven years, although the defined amount of time varies from state or state or is not defined), they are automatically considered legally married and should be treated as such for tax purposes, next-of-kin situations, inheritance, and other legal reasons. Couples do not have to go through a formal ceremony or obtain a marriage license in order to be considered to have a common-law marriage; however, common-law marriage is generally considered somewhat of an antiquated idea these days, and only a few states still grant it.

Does New York recognize common-law marriages?

Along with the vast majority of states, New York does not grant or establish common-law marriages. In fact, as of the start of 2020, only the following states (along with Washington, D.C.) still legally recognize new common-law marriages:

  • Colorado
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington, D.C.

Even though couples cannot obtain common-law marriages in New York, our state does recognize common-law marriages that have been established and deemed legal and valid in other states. That means that if you were common-law married in one of the states listed above, your marriage is still valid if you relocate to New York.

New York alternatives to common-law marriage

If you and your partner have lived together for a long time, but have decided for one reason or another that traditional marriage is not right for you, you may wish to consider one of the following alternatives for added legal protections and benefits:

  • Changing your name – If you do not wish to be legally married but wish to share a last name with your partner, perhaps because you have a child together and want to all have the same surname, you can legally change your name for any reason.
  • Cohabitation – You and your partner can obtain a cohabitation agreement, which is highly customizable in terms of rights to property and other terms. It does not afford all of the rights and benefits as a formal marriage—however; it is also easier in the event that the relationship dissolves. Whereas married couples must go through a divorce, a cohabitation agreement simply goes into effect when cohabitating ends.
  • Legal contracts and other documentation – If your aim is to establish your longtime partner’s rights as the legal beneficiary to your inheritance, as your power of attorney or medical power of attorney, or to provide additional designations/benefits that might occur after you pass away, you can achieve those goals in your estate plan documents without having to formally marry.

Reach out to an experienced NYC family lawyer with questions about common-law marriage

To learn more about marriage laws in New York, call the Law Office of Vivien I. Stark, P.C. today at 212-349-1600, or contact us online. With more than 30 years of experience handling all types of NY family law matters, our New York City matrimonial lawyer can help find the legal solution that’s right for you.