Well, the short answer to this questions is that California law does not recognize common law marriage as a form of marriage for California residents; however, there is a big exception (of course, because it is the law)!

So let’s start with the basics, what is common law marriage?  Common law marriage is a form of marriage recognized by some States where a couple, usually a man and woman, live together for a period of time, hold themselves-out to friends, family, and society as “being married,” and yet, they have never obtained a marriage license, gone through a formal ceremony, etc.  Some States recognize common law marriage, Texas for example, but California is not one of them.

So how about that exception?  California law, specifically the Family Code, will recognize a validly contracted marriage if properly done in another State.  Specifically the Family Code states that California will recognize a marriage if it was “contracted outside [California] that would be valid by the laws of the jurisdiction in which the marriage was contracted.”  As an example, if a man and woman live in another State which recognizes common law marriage, they do everything that is required by that State’s common law marriage rules, and then they move to California, technically the California Family Code will recognize their common law marriage as a valid marriage.  This is because their valid marriage in another state will be recognized by California and will transfer to California when they move from the other State to California.  This is true even though California does not specifically recognize common law marriage.  California (and other states) does this because it is in the Constitution of the United States that California (and other States) must give full faith and fair credit to other state’s laws that may be different from California’s laws.

The issue is a bit more complicated than as described above and there are many legal procedural rules in which a couple must do in order for California to formally recognize such a marriage.  Because it is complex, anyone dealing with the above issues should contact the Chilina Law Firm or another California law firm practicing in the areas of family law or estate planning to discuss their circumstance and how it relates to California law.

Authored by Greg Chilina and Co-Authored by Karen Chilina

Chilina Law Firm, a Professional Corporation, is a full-service estate planning, probate, trust administration, business law, and real property law firm that provides a wide-range of advising, transactional, and litigation services to its clients from its office located in Atascadero, California. The firm’s attorneys represent individuals and business entities in an assortment of transactional and litigation matters involving estate planning (including trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives), probate, trust administration, as well as general business law, contracts, corporate governance, land use, and real property. Chilina Law can be contacted by telephone at (805) 538-5038 or by email at info@chilinalaw.com or visit the Chilina Law Firm at www.chilinalaw.com. Chilina Law Firm is based in Atascadero, California and serves North San Luis Obispo County communities, including Santa Margarita, Atascadero, Templeton, Paso Robles, and San Miguel.

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