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  • Paula Thompson
    Paula Thompson

    New York Common Law Marriage: 5 Myths Unveiled!

    Whether you're knee-deep in a serious relationship or just contemplating the intricate labyrinth of love and commitment, the term "New York Common Law Marriage" might have sparked your curiosity. It's one of those legal terms thrown around by people who claim to be well-versed in relationship matters. But what does it really mean? Does it change the way you perceive your relationship? More importantly, is it even recognized in the state of New York?

    As a seasoned relationship coach, I've noticed a surge in inquiries about common law marriages. There's a significant amount of confusion, misinterpretation, and outright myths surrounding the concept. Therefore, I felt it's high time to clear the air and separate the wheat from the chaff.

    As we embark on this informative journey, we'll dispel the common myths surrounding New York common law marriage and bring to light the realities rooted in legal statutes and court precedents. This article aims to enlighten you, allowing you to navigate your romantic relationships with a stronger understanding of legal subtleties. By the time you're done reading, you'll be able to confidently separate fact from fiction.

    So, let's delve into the world of love, commitment, and legalities, as we debunk five of the biggest myths about New York common law marriage.

    Myth 1: New York Recognizes Common Law Marriages

    One of the most widespread myths about common law marriages is that they're legally recognized in every state, including New York. The reality is quite the opposite.

    Common law marriage, as a legal institution, is a form of marital relationship that doesn't require a formal ceremony or license to be considered valid. In the past, it was more widespread, a remnant of a time when access to legal institutions and formal procedures were less accessible to people. Over time, many states in the US have abolished the recognition of common law marriage, New York being one of them.

    New York law doesn't recognize common law marriages. This conclusion is not recent; in fact, it has been the case since 1933. To be legally considered married in New York, couples must obtain a marriage license and have a formal marriage ceremony, either civil or religious.

    That being said, it's not all black and white. There are some exceptions in which New York might recognize a common law marriage. These cases generally involve couples who have established a common law marriage in a state that recognizes such marriages and then moved to New York. Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, New York is obliged to respect the laws and judicial decisions of other states. Therefore, if a couple is considered legally married under a common law marriage in another state, New York may also consider them married.

    This often leads to complexities and legal nuances that can be challenging to navigate. If you believe that you're in a common law marriage and have moved to New York, it's recommended to seek legal counsel to understand your specific situation better.

    Myth 2: Living Together for a Certain Period Constitutes a Common Law Marriage

    Another frequently perpetuated myth is the idea that living together for a certain number of years results in an automatic common law marriage. This is a significant misconception that can lead to misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations in a relationship.

    While cohabitation, or living together, is indeed a component of common law marriage, it's far from being the sole criteria. A common law marriage, in jurisdictions that recognize it, requires more than just a prolonged living arrangement. The couple must intend to be married and present themselves as a married couple to family, friends, and society. In legal terms, this is often referred to as "holding out" as a married couple.

    In other words, a couple living together for a decade or more, sharing finances and responsibilities, but never intending to be seen as married or presenting themselves as such, wouldn't qualify as a common law marriage, even in a state that recognizes common law marriages.

    Given that New York doesn't recognize common law marriages, the length of cohabitation doesn't have any legal weight when determining marital status. Regardless of how long a couple lives together in New York, without a formal marriage ceremony and license, they won't be considered legally married.

    As a relationship coach, it's essential to encourage open and honest conversations about expectations, intentions, and plans for the future. If you and your partner are contemplating the idea of a common law marriage, a conversation about how you view your relationship and what steps you're willing to take is crucial. It's equally important to be aware of the legal implications of your decisions and how they can affect you in the long term.

    Myth 3: Common Law Marriage Offers the Same Legal Protections as Formal Marriage

    Often, individuals mistakenly believe that common law marriages offer the same legal protections and benefits as a formal marriage. While there may be some similarities, the differences are significant and worth understanding.

    In states that recognize common law marriages, once a common law marriage is established, the couple can enjoy some of the same legal benefits as those in a formal marriage. These can include inheritance rights, the ability to make medical decisions for a spouse, and access to health and retirement benefits, among others.

    However, establishing the existence of a common law marriage can often be more complicated than proving a formal marriage. For a formal marriage, a marriage certificate is undeniable proof. In contrast, a common law marriage often requires proving cohabitation, mutual intention to be married, and presentation as a married couple to society, which can be much more difficult to substantiate.

    Furthermore, in states that do not recognize common law marriage, such as New York, couples cohabitating and presenting as married won't have the same legal protections as formally married couples. This could potentially lead to challenging situations regarding property rights, alimony, and other matters if the relationship ends.

    As a relationship coach, I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the implications of the choices you make within your relationship. The type of relationship structure you choose can have lasting impacts on both emotional and legal aspects of your life. Before deciding your path, you should have a detailed discussion with your partner and potentially seek legal advice to ensure you fully understand the ramifications of your decisions.

    Myth 4: There's No Need for a Formal Divorce in a Common Law Marriage

    The fourth myth we're debunking is the idea that a common law marriage can be dissolved without the need for a formal divorce process. This belief can lead to serious legal and financial ramifications if not properly addressed.

    In jurisdictions that recognize common law marriages, once such a marriage is established, it carries the same legal weight as a formal marriage. This means that if a couple wishes to separate, they must go through a formal divorce process, including division of property, potential alimony, and child custody arrangements, just like any other married couple. Simply parting ways and ceasing to live together won't legally end the marriage.

    Given that New York doesn't recognize common law marriages, this might not seem relevant. However, as we discussed earlier, New York may recognize common law marriages established in other states. Therefore, if you've established a common law marriage in a state that recognizes such relationships and moved to New York, you'd need to go through a formal divorce process if you decided to separate.

    Relationships can be complex, and when the legal aspects intertwine with emotional bonds, it's crucial to understand the implications of your decisions fully. Separating from a long-term partner can be a difficult process, both emotionally and legally. Therefore, it's always advisable to seek professional guidance to navigate these challenges with clarity and ensure you're making the best decisions for your future.

    Myth 5: Children Born in a Common Law Marriage are Illegitimate

    The final myth that I'd like to address is the false belief that children born within a common law marriage are considered illegitimate. This is not only a legal misconception but also an emotionally charged one that could lead to unnecessary stress and concern.

    In the eyes of the law, the marital status of the parents doesn't determine the legitimacy of a child. Whether a child's parents are formally married, in a common law marriage, or not married at all, has no bearing on the child's legal status or rights. All children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, have the same rights to support, inheritance, and other legal protections.

    In New York, as in all states, if you are a parent, regardless of your marital status, you have legal responsibilities towards your child. This includes the duty to provide financial support and to make decisions in the child's best interest regarding their education, health care, and other important life aspects.

    Navigating the world of relationships and marriage can be a complex journey, with legal implications that can be difficult to understand fully. Myths, misconceptions, and misinformation only make the journey more challenging. It's my hope that by debunking these five myths about New York common law marriage, you're better equipped to make informed decisions about your own relationship.


    • Harley, W. (2001). His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. Revell.
    • Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert. Harmony.
    • Schnarch, D. (2009). Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. W. W. Norton & Company.

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