July 20, 2011

Common-law Marriage in California

Many states have what is called common-law marriage. For reference, a common-law marriage is where two individuals hold themselves out to the public as if they were married for a specified amount of time despite the fact that they never went through the formal marriage proposal, namely the acquisition of a marriage license.

However, the state of  California does not recognize common-law marriage.

The reason why this is significant is because California is a community property state. This means that marital assets are owned equally between the spouses. For example, husband earned $1,000 a week as a librarian, whereby his wife would be entitled to $500 of that paycheck. Since a common law marriage is not recognized under California law, a common law wife would not be afforded the same protections as a regular wife or spouse.

Still, it should be noted that a putative spouse is entitled to his or her share of quasi-marital property. See Prob C §§6500-6615; Estate of Hafner (1986) 184 CA3d 1371. A putative spouse is somebody who in good faith entered into a marital relationship with another person who was ineligible to marry. A putative spouse commonly arises where the ineligible spouse was previously married and had never legally dissolved the marriage.