Misconceptions abound regarding common law relationships and common law marriages. In Washington, for example, couples cannot become married through common law provisions, though the state does recognize such marriages in some situations as well as makes provisions for non-married couples who cohabit. Talk to a Washington attorney if you need legal advice about marriages in the state. Keep in mind that each state has its own laws governing marital requirements.
Washington does not allow couples to enter into common law marriages within the state. Anyone who wants to get married in the state must meet the legal eligibility requirements and obtain a marriage license before getting married. In general, the bride and groom must be at least 18 years old and must enter into the marriage willingly. Those who are at least 17 years old can get married but must first receive a judge's permission, according to the Washington State Bar Association.
While Washington does not allow couples to get married through common law provisions, the state does recognize the validity of common law marriages entered into states that recognize them. For example, if a couple in Kansas, a state that recognizes common law marriage, gets married in the state according to the state's common law marriage provisions and then moves to Washington, the state of Washington will recognize the marriage as valid.
Divorce and Common Law
If a couple in Washington was married through the common law provisions of another state, that couple is still considered legally married and must go through the divorce or annulment process to end the marriage. There is no difference between a divorce for common law marriages and non-common law marriages, and a common law divorce does not exist in any state.
Washington also recognizes a form of cohabitation known as a "meretricious relationships." A meretricious relationship is one where the couple has a stable relationship that is very much like a marriage, but where both partners understand that a lawful marriage contract does not exist. Though some people refer to such relationships as "common law," and the couple can even hold itself out as married, they are not legally married. In such instances of a meretricious relationship, Washington courts do have the ability to divide property owned by the couple in a similar fashion as it would in a divorce case between spouses.
Roger Thorne is an attorney who began freelance writing in 2003. He has written for publications ranging from "MotorHome" magazine to "Cruising World." Thorne specializes in writing for law firms, Web sites, and professionals. He has a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas.