Common Law Marriage Versus Legal Marriage

@ShealM (388)
Canada
July 18, 2008 10:47am CST
Is there a difference between common law and legal marriage? I was having a debate with a friend about this. To me there is no difference, at least not in the country (Canada) that I live in. There are common law marriage legislation that make a common law marriage just as significant as a legal marriage save for the fact that it is harder to claim the assets of one's partner if they pass away. It can be contested easier in common law marriages, in legal marriages it is automatic. In divorce or separation it is the same as a partner who passed away. To me, I've earned my right to be called wife with almost 9 years common law marriage and 5 kids (all the same father if anyone is wondering, apparently very rare now a days). We're getting "officially" married in August and really it's only a symbolic act of presenting to the legal, government and societal communities of what already existed in common law. I dislike very much people who put down others who are common law with words like "no paper - no marriage" or degrade the meaning of the couple's relationship by saying they aren't husband and wife just because of a piece of paper. Or say that common law married couples are too lazy to get married - what is lazy about common law marriages? We work harder at it because we have to prove legality every step of the way, from beneficiary naming to writing a will to protect the interests of each other so that no one can contest what we wanted in our passing away. Splitting of assets in a common law marriage is not automatic while a legal marriage is automatic for asset division during separation or divorce. We take on the same debt loads together, can open bank accounts together, get welfare together, sign legal government documents together (even required to like child benefits) - so why is my marriage any less than one that has a piece of paper. It sure doesn't feel like it.
5 people like this
9 responses
• United States
18 Jul 08
I have been in a common law marriage now for nearly 20 years. It is a legally binding marriage that would require a divorce to end. A lot of people do not understand the laws of living together and sometimes they do things that bind them together in a common law marriage without even realizing it or planning to. My husband and I have always held ourselves as being married and never anything else so it was never an issue for us, we just never bothered with the ceremony even though we did go and get a license a very long time ago.
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
19 Jul 08
May I ask what country you live in, I find it interesting that a common law marriage would require a divorce or did you mean that it would require court proceedings to divvy up the marital assets and possible child custody arrangements? It probably would be the same proceedings but called something else in the eyes of the law that separates common law marriages from legal marriages. If not, you live in a very progressive country and I find that fascinating that your government support common law as equal the legal marriage.
• United States
19 Jul 08
http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/commonlaw.htm The state I live in has stopped new common law marriages but the ones who are claiming this status before the cutoff date are still recognized. The divorce part is all the way at the very bottom.
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
20 Jul 08
Fascinating! Thank you for the link, I find it intriguing that it's from the United States. I didn't know that about the States (at least some of the states anyways). Very progressive establishment of common law marriage legislation. Very detailed in the legislation as well. A good example of common law marriage and legal marriage equality.
• United States
18 Jul 08
it is up to if you donot wont to get legal marriages but to me yes there adifference. i can not and not put you down if you are common law it is up to you if he love you and you hem yuo will make everthing work legal are not.
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
19 Jul 08
Thank you, exactly what my own perception of this topic is. There is no difference save for the legal semantics (which are similar anyhow in rights and claims).
• United States
20 Jul 08
right on to you .i was marry for 12y .... and yes i will love to get marry some day.
@us2owls (1681)
• United States
18 Jul 08
I just got married - but my husband and I have been together for 11 1/2 years and of course at our age we have no children. I am not against common law marriage but legal marriage saves a lot of hassle. I have been married just 3 weeks and still haven't got all the paperwork sorted out. I didn't realize there were so many things with my name on them that I had to change. Even my voter registration. ShealM good luck and best wishes on your up-coming marriage. Take that piece of paper and frame it and hang it on the wall. LOL
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
18 Jul 08
Thanks *lol* I appreciate your candor and honesty. I think that's the only difference really is the hassles between common law legal proof and legal marriage making the burden of legal proof automatically proven. I think in a sense, legal wise it is different but in the sense of emotional wise there is no difference.
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
22 Jul 08
That is where a legal living will should be in place in those types of situations (no offense I hope towards your friend). Having this living will makes the difference and is more difficult for family members contesting the assets or child custody to make their case against the common law wife in question.
• Italy
20 Jul 08
if it is believed to do a relationship in this way it is better to avoid the wedding and living liberations thinking next to the fun also because task that once married thinking to put to the world thinking to put to the world duties in their comparisons is useless to think next to the divorce in how much the children would create many existential problems in relation to the rights in this is not a problem in how much the law it establishes the conditions, all the unions are not perfect nearly all the braces today have problems,from when economic independence exists refers to the woman in the society the relationships is little changes to you and the weddings last very little what he is interesting in the wedding is the percentage of loads feeling many unions leave with intentions to the aim to improve without to the quality of relationship and the affection.
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
20 Jul 08
Thank you for your thoughts, although I am having difficulty understanding your post I've gathered the gist of it.
@lvaldean (1612)
• United States
19 Jul 08
Most of the differences are legal differences and will depend upon the country and sometimes even the province / state you reside in. I don't think there is really any difference otherwise. Certainly there will be social differences. Just based upon what I have read here thus far people perceive the relationship differently. But it is really not the business of society to judge, although you can't stop that judgement. You are right you have earned the title of "wife" and he of "husband". The piece of paper won't change that.
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
19 Jul 08
I agree and a piece of paper definitely does not define nor change my position as wife or his as husband. We know what we are to each other and that piece of paper is merely a formality at this point and nothing more.
@reckon21 (3487)
• Philippines
19 Jul 08
Is there a difference between the two? For me no difference,Once you are married you are married. The important is you love each other and raising good children. There are many couple tied in common law marriage and legal marriage but in the middle got separated by a divorced. There must be love and understandings to make marriage strong. It doesn't matter if it is common law or legal marriage.Thanks and god bless to you family.Peace!!!!!
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
19 Jul 08
See this is my thoughts on the topic as well. Does a piece of paper make me a better mother? A better spouse or wife? Just because we are common law (at the moment) does that mean our relationship is not legitimate? A piece of paper does not define the legitimacy of a relationship or the status of marriage. A lot of the naysayers (my opinion here, not necessarily the truth of the matter) I think are equating the religious aspect to it rather than what I actually asked about - the legality of it. I think the aspect of the definition of marriage comes not only from legal standpoints but emotional and cultural standpoints as well. What we are raised with and how we are raised color our definitions of things whether it be marriage topics or how to raise children topics. It's normal to have this coloring of our definitions because it is human nature to pass to the next generation the traditions of the family and culture and even religion. Ultimately what I wanted was acceptance and tolerance regardless of individual definitions or religious\emotional equation to the topic of common law marriage versus legal marriage. Perhaps even mutual respect for each other. Isn't that what it is about respect and tolerance.
• Philippines
19 Jul 08
I hope I don't offend you but yes you had tackled most of what married couples go through being a common law wife I guess it is more of how culture perceives married people. Like in my country, though it is considered a traditional country but just like any country people grow and views change just as the environment change or surroundings change. I guess, what I am trying to say, many women would not care less if they are common law wives or legal wives, it is how the woman would want herself to be called. I have nothing against common law wife, I have never been one, I am a legal wife, personally, in my view, I would want to be called a legal wife because it is how I was raised by my family. Though, there is nothing wrong with being a common law wife, I would feel more comfortable having our marriage sanctified by the government and our church. I would like to say that if somebody is degrading you because you are a common law wife instead of a legal wife then its their problem, the question that you should ask yourself is that: 1. Are you happy with your current status? 2. Do you care about what other people say about you? 3. Do you even care about others opinion towards you? Bottomline, whatever brings you peace of mind then it is your choice. As long as you are sharing love and happiness with your loved one's it is all that matters.
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
19 Jul 08
Oh, I don't care what other people say about me, nor their opinion. I just find it narrow minded of people to even say it. Personally, if someone doesn't like it, they have to live that life, it's not their problem - keep it to themselves. I don't want to hear it from them. I chose what I want in my life and how I want in my life. I won't be common law soon, August we will be legally married because we want to not because society's "norm" says to. We chose what works for us. I took no offense to your post at all and I think you articulated yourself well and very intelligently. I respect your opinion and thoughts completely. You were extremely respectful in the manner in which you posted. No worries!
@laglen (19782)
• United States
19 Jul 08
Where I live, if you live together for 3 months and have both names on something, you are common law. I have lived with the same man for over three years but we do not have both names on anything! I have no issue with whether you are legal ceremony or common law. It affects me in no way. As long as your happy what should it matter?
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
19 Jul 08
Same in Canada but only if you have a child between you and the father (or vice versa between the father and the mother). One is in a common law relationship within three months if there is a child between them and have been together in the same household for that 3 months. Otherwise it is 12 months (I think, anyone care to correct or verify?).
@Daphers (141)
• Canada
18 Jul 08
I agree with you 100%, there is no difference and I too live in Canada. I feel that it is just a piece of paper that is issued for government purposes. Although I still want to go through the whole "ceremony" because it is something I have looked forward to since I was very young, I could care less about the piece of paper, haha. I just want to be able to wear a wedding dress and dance around at some point in my life.=)
@ShealM (388)
• Canada
18 Jul 08
To me it's just a piece of paper as well. It is the ceremony that is more important and emotionally more significant than the piece of paper.