California doesn’t recognize common law marriage. However, unmarried couples in California still have rights under state law. Consult an experienced family law attorney if you have questions or need guidance.

What is Common Law Marriage in California?

Common-law marriage is when two people live together and hold themselves out as married even though they haven’t gone through the formal legal process of getting a marriage license or having a ceremony. 

Even though common law marriage in California is not recognized under state law, the state recognizes common law marriages from states where they are legal. It also allows for divorce proceedings for couples with valid common-law marriages from other states.

No Common Law Marriage in California – But Other Unions Are Recognized

California doesn’t recognize common law marriages, but it does allow for domestic partnerships and cohabitation agreements. A California domestic partnership is a legal relationship that gives unmarried couples the rights and benefits of marriage. 

A cohabitation agreement is a binding contract between a couple living together. Like a prenuptial agreement, it sets out each partner’s obligations and how their assets will be divided if they end up separating.  

What Happens When a Common Law Marriage Ends?

When a married couple gets divorced, state law dictates how their property will be divided. Unmarried couples don’t benefit from these clear guidelines, so dividing the assets is generally left up to the couple. 

However, the California Supreme Court recognizes a palimony claim, also known as a Marvin claim, because the case involved an actor named Lee Marvin and his partner.

So if an unmarried couple lives together for an extended period of time and then separates, one of the parties may have the right to support and property that was acquired while the couple was together. The partner seeking support and property would file a Marvin claim.

Courts look at several factors when deciding whether a palimony claim should be granted, including: 

  • How long was the couple living together?
  • Did one provide support for the other?
  • Did both contribute monetarily to any property bought?
  • Did the couple have an agreement between them about support or the division of property?

Having a cohabitation agreement in place would help avoid the issue of palimony. Speak with a California family law attorney to see if this option makes sense for you.

Unmarried With Children

Like other states, California expects parents to support their children whether they are married or not. In California, child support is typically paid until a child turns 18.

There is a big difference between unmarried and married fathers in California. A married father who gets divorced is presumed to be the child’s biological parent. However, if the father was never married to the child’s mother, his paternity must be established if he challenges his status as a birth parent.

To avoid this issue, paternity can be established at the hospital when the child is born. 

Both parents can sign a voluntary declaration of paternity acknowledging that they are the child’s parents and that the father is the child’s legal father. His name will be added to the child’s birth certificate, and he will have parental rights and responsibilities to the child. If this never happened, it’s an important consideration if you choose to separate from your partner. 

Consult an Experienced Family Law Attorney If You Have Questions Regarding Common Law Marriage in California 

Whether you are part of a married or unmarried couple, it’s wise to speak with a family law attorney about your options should your marriage or relationship end. 

You may need help with property division, child custody, child support, and other matters. It’s best to consult an experienced San Diego family law attorney to discuss the issues surrounding your separation or divorce. 

Contact Our Divorce Law Firm in San Diego, CA

Contact our experienced San Diego divorce lawyers at San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108