What is a common law divorce and what do you need to know if you're in a common law marriage?

When two people live together as a couple for a certain period of time, as determined by their state of residence, they are considered legally married in the eyes of the law. This is known as a common law marriage, and only applies to couples living in 11 of the 50 states. However, the marriage is legally valid in all 50 states, even if the couple moves to another state which doesn't recognize common law marriages for its own residence.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause, found in Article IV, section 1, of the Constitution, states that the laws of one jurisdiction are fully maintained in all others. This means that simply moving to a different state will not dissolve a common law marriage. Instead, the couple must pursue traditional avenues of obtaining a divorce in their state. There is no real difference between a common law divorce and a regular divorce.

Common law marriages are currently recognized in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington, D.C. However, the amount of time a couple must cohabitate to be considered legally married varies drastically. In some states it is as little as six months, and in others it can exceed three years. Check your local state laws for more information, and make sure you've been granted common law marriage before you take any drastic measures.

Once you've verified that a common law divorce is necessary, you must proceed with the traditional divorce filing, dividing of assets, and making any decisions regarding alimony and/or custody. If you don't have property or children, you can file for divorce yourself, without the help of a lawyer. See your local court clerk for more information about filing a petition for divorce in your state.

You'll be required to pay a court cost, which varies from state to state, and provide the court with some basic information. This includes your name and the name of your spouse, the name and age of any children you share, and all the marital property and debts. Once you file the petition, the clerk will give you a copy to serve to your spouse along with a court summons.

Filing the petition yourself is perhaps the easiest way to go about a common law divorce. However, if you have marital property or children, it is recommended that you consult a divorce lawyer. An attorney, who specializes in common law or divorce, will be able to guide you through the process, and make it as smooth as possible on all involved parties. A divorce attorney will also take care of all the filing and paperwork for you.

Either path you take, a common law divorce is necessary if your state recognizes you as legally married. For more information on beginning the divorce proceedings, contact your local courthouse or a divorce lawyer in your area.