How long do you have to live together to have a “common law marriage” in Utah?

The idea of a common law marriage is something most people are familiar with.  It is the idea that a couple can live together and after a certain number of years they will be recognized as a married couple, although they were never actually married.

There are various legal issues that may arise which are related to “common law marriage.” We are often asked a variety of questions about common law marriage, primarily upon separation or death of one or both parties.

If a couple was never married but lived together for a long time, are they entitled to property at separation or death?

Are they entitled to government benefits for taxes, health insurance, or other things available to a married couple?

The common law marriage statute

Officially in the state of Utah, and in most states, there is no such thing as a “common law marriage.”  To receive the legal rights and benefits of a marriage in Utah, a couple must obtain a marriage license and be legally married by a person authorized to perform a marriage .

There is, however, a process where an individual or couple may petition a Utah court to recognize a relationship as a valid marriage.  This process is included in Utah Code Annotated § 30-1-4.5, titled “Validity of marriage not solemnized” and it describes what is needed for the court to establish the relationship as a valid marriage.

Establishing common law marriage in Utah

To be successful in convincing the court to recognize the relationship as a marriage, a person will need to be prepared with evidence to show that the marriage resulted from an agreement between two partners who:

  • Are both over the age of 18 and are mentally capable of making their own decisions. They need to be legally old enough to get married and capable of giving consent
  • Are both legally capable of getting married. This means that they are not married to someone else, or are not close relatives who are not allowed by law to get married.
  • Have lived together as a couple.
  • Have treated each other as though they are married and have acted as though they are married. Some helpful facts would be having kids together, maintaining joint bank accounts, filing joint tax returns, or financially supporting each other.
  • Have presented themselves to third parties and to the public that they are married such that they have “acquired a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife.” Essentially, they need to show that they have told other people they are married and their friends and members of their community consider them to be married.

The statute also requires the petition to have a relationship recognized as a marriage to be filed during the relationship or within one year after the relationship ends.  This could be after they have separated, or either one or both partners have died.

 How long do you have to live together to have a “common law marriage” in Utah?

When it comes to common law marriage, there is frequently a belief that the couple must be together for a certain number of years.  There is no set number of years a couple must live together to establish a common law marriage.  Nor is there a set number of years after living together where the state of Utah will automatically recognize the marriage as a “common law marriage.”  The couple does need to live together, but the amount of time could be different in each case.  The official answer is long enough to  treat each other as a married couple and to acquire a reputation of being husband and wife.

Reasons to recognize a Common Law Marriage

The result of having the court recognize a relationship as a marriage is the couple will be considered to have been married ever since the conditions were met.  Generally, the reason or advantage of a common law marriage is to backdate a marriage date for financial or property related reasons. There are several reasons that an individual or couple may need to have a past relationship recognized as a marriage, which include the following:

  • To be able to get divorced and divide property
  • To inherit property in the event of a death of one or both partners
  • To claim government benefits or other benefits such as insurance benefits, retirement benefits, or survivor benefits.
  • To file a lawsuit and claim damages in a wrongful death action.

These reasons are why establishing a common law marriage can be difficult.  It is essential to show evidence proving that a marriage was the intent of both partners and was done with mutual consent.  If there is no reason to backdate a marriage, it is likely best to just get married.

Our Attorneys Can Help You

We recognize that every situation is different.  The attorneys at Helgesen, Houtz &Jones are here to help with you with your legal needs.  If you have questions about common law marriage in Utah, let us analyze your situation so you can make an informed decision and move forward in a way that is best suited for you. Call us to set up a free consultation today to see how we can help you.