Marriage and common law marriage, have many similarities in rights and responsibilities between spouses. However, there are also some very notable differences. First, common laws recognize marriages that took place in the absence of a legal marriage license, which is required for a marriage ceremony in all fifty states. However, some states do not grant marriage through common laws, in the absence of a marriage license and ceremony.
Yet, both marriages are similar in that the couples hold themselves as husband and wife, are of the legal age of consent and are mentally capable of giving consent to be married. Even with those similarities, marriages granted through common laws generally are not afforded all of the same rights and responsibilities conferred upon marriages.
For example, some states like New Hampshire only grant limited rights to marriage granted through common law, such as inheritance rights. Couples in that state do not acquire any other relationship rights in a marriage granted through common laws.
Many states only offer limited rights to common law marriages. For example, some estates only grant very specific and limited rights to those relationships. In any case, common law marriages must be dissolved in the same way that a marriage is, through a legal divorce. Couples cannot simply determine that they no longer wish to be together.
Like marriages, common law marriages forbid either spouse from entering into any other legally recognized relationship contract. In addition, both types of marriages entitle couples to tax benefits, if they live in a state that grants common law marriage. In fact, couples that acquire a legally recognized common law marriage in one state are likely to have that marriage recognized even in states that do not grant marriage through common laws.
The federal government is likely to recognize that marriage as long as it complies with Federal laws such as the Defense of Marriage act, which requires spouses to be of opposite sexes. Some marriages granted through common laws, may only be entitled to limited marriage rights.
For example, common law marriages may only entitle couples to certain rights in regards to a spouse's health care in states that do not legally recognize their marriage. Even couples that have had their marriage legally recognized in one state, may not be allowed to make health care decisions in another state in the absence of a health care directive. Due to these differences, many couples eventually decide to take part in a marriage granted through a legal marriage license.
Couples often decide to take part in a legally recognized wedding ceremony in order to be certain that their relationship entitles them to all of the rights of marriage. In fact, common law marriages sometimes prohibit couples from achieving some of the most vital relationship rights. Couples should become fully aware of the marriage laws in their state before making a determination.
In fact, couples should never assume that their marriage entitles them to rights without referring to their state's marriage laws.