What is common law marriage?

A “common law marriage” is a marriage entered into between two people under “common law” rules. It is not different from a licensed marriage except that a license isn’t necessary, required, or requested. A marriage is a marriage. A common law marriage is simply another way to enter into a valid marriage, additional to a licensed marriage.

Not all states allow people to become married at “common law” in that state. But every state recognizes a common law marriage entered into by two people in another state that recognizes common law marriage. A couple who has a “common law marriage” can only divorce by court order. There is no such thing as a “common law divorce.”

In Kansas, common law marriage is valid if:

1. Capacity. The couple is of sufficient age, “mental capacity,” and is able to marry (18 years old and each party understands that they are agreeing to be married, and that neither is married to another person).

2. Intent. Each party in the couple has a “current intent” to be married (not an intent to become married sometime in the future).

3. The couple “holds themselves out to the public” as married (that is, they don’t keep their marriage secret).

When these 3 elements come together at the same time, the couple is married at common law under Kansas law. The fact that they later don’t want to be married, or that they wish they hadn’t become married, or that they regret that they agreed to be married doesn’t make them unmarried. The only way to dissolve a marriage is by divorce, whether that married is a licensed marriage or a common law marriage. “You can’t unring a bell.”