Is an Oklahoma Common Law Marriage Valid?
It is a question often asked of a Tulsa family lawyer: “Is an Oklahoma common law marriage valid?”
On the one hand, Oklahoma laws require marriages to be “contracted by a formal ceremony.” Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 7a
Oklahoma courts, on the other hand, have a more expansive view of common law marriage in Oklahoma.
Question about Oklahoma common law marriage often arise when a couple decides to part ways. If a common law marriage can result from casual agreements, is it just as easy to get a common law divorce? The answer is not always simple.
If someone asserts a plausible legal claim based on common law marriage, a counterclaim asserting an informal common law divorce will not hold up. Even if nobody has asserted a legal claim of common law marriage, if the elements of a common law marriage are present complications can later arise unless a divorce is formalized.
Concerns about common law marriage in Oklahoma also arise when one party wants to remarry, or a partner dies. A common law spouse may allege bigamy if a partner enters another marriage without formalizing a divorce. A subsequent marriage could even be invalidated if a prior common law marriage is not properly dissolved. Children or former spouses may contend in probate proceedings that a long time common law spouse is not entitled to a share of an estate because there was never a marriage ceremony.
Oklahoma Common Law Marriage Requirements
To determine whether a claim of common law marriage in Oklahoma is valid, courts consider several factors:
- Whether the parties have the legal capacity to be married. Each party must be of legal age and not already married to someone else.
- Whether there is a mutual agreement to be married.
- Whether the relationship was intended to be permanent.
- Whether the couple lives together as husband and wife.
- Whether the couple represents themselves to the community as married.
An old adage that presumes common law marriage is automatic after a couple lives together for a certain number of years – even sharing a bed for a long time – is simply not true. Likewise, having children together does not automatically make a marriage. Courts require some sort of evidence to establish that a couple has mutually agreed to an Oklahoma common law marriage.
If a couple declared to friends, family and others that they are husband and wife, they would be well on their way to establishing a common law marriage. Social declarations of a marriage alone, however, might not be enough to convince a court a marriage is valid. If the couple used the same last name, the common law marriage would more likely be recognized as valid.
More convincing evidence could involve documentation. Along with public representations of a permanent mutual agreement, joint loans, joint bank accounts, shared mortgages, or shared property title provide strong evidence of a common law marriage. Joint tax returns are strong evidence of a common law marriage. Health insurance policies purchased as a married couple or a joint bankruptcy can be evidence of a common law marriage.
What About Common Law Divorce in Oklahoma?
Even though a common law marriage might start with casual agreements reached in private then shared with friends and in business documents, a similarly casual agreement is not a valid way to end an Oklahoma common law marriage. To rely on an informal mutual agreement to end a common law marriage can lead to problems down the road.
If a couple has filed joint tax returns, moving to another house might not be enough to protect one partner from the tax liabilities of the former common law spouse. A joint bank account that was once a symbol of shared commitment could become a legal liability if a partner does not formally end a marriage.
A common law marriage that ends in divorce follows the same rules as any other Oklahoma divorce, with the exception that the existence of a valid common law marriage can be more difficult to prove. Divorce proceedings allow for equitable division of marital property. A divorce erases all uncertainty about your right to remarry after a common law marriage.
Parental roles and obligations are settled in divorce proceedings. One partner may be entitled to spousal support or alimony sufficient to maintain a standard of living they enjoyed as a result of the marriage. A formal divorce can also provide protection for your estate after you die.
Tulsa Common Law Marriage Attorney
More often than not, people approach a Tulsa divorce attorney about Oklahoma common law marriage when they want out of a relationship. There are other times, though, when common law spouses who spent have many long years together may need to find more solid footing, looking perhaps at retirement or estate planning. Adoption, guardianships and even immigration concerns can also be affected by common law marriage in Oklahoma.
Tulsa family lawyers at Wirth Law Office advise clients in all phases of common law marriage. For a free consultation with an Oklahoma common law marriage attorney, call Wirth Law Office at 918-932-1681. You may also send us your questions about common law marriage in Oklahoma using the form at the top of this page.