A Primer on Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma

toothbrushesMost people hold a formal ceremony to establish their marriage. Married couples get a license and formally record their ceremonial marriage at the courthouse. Oklahoma is among a handful of states that still recognize non-ceremonial marriages, also called “common-law” marriages. These marriages are formed through the consent of the parties who enter into the marriage, but they do not meet all the state requirements, such as a license or ceremony.

WHY DOES COMMON-LAW MARRIAGE MATTER?

Couples without the benefit of a ceremonial marriage often take their relationship for granted until one party passes away. The existence of a marriage will affect the inheritance rights of children from a previous marriage or relationship. It can also affect the distribution of death benefits.

Married partners have rights when dissolving a marriage that people who just live together do not enjoy. Dividing assets and liabilities, real and personal property, retirement accounts, and family support have well-defined structure in family law. People who just live together have to prove an ownership interest in property independent of any family relationship. They have no right to alimony in Oklahoma.

HOW DO I ESTABLISH A COMMON-LAW MARRIAGE (OR NO MARRIAGE)?

Anyone trying to prove a common-law marriage in Oklahoma must prove all the following facts:

  • An actual and mutual agreement between the spouses to be husband and wife (with legal capacity to enter the marriage contract);
  • A permanent relationship;
  • An exclusive relationship;
  • The parties to the marriage must hold themselves out publicly as husband and wife, and;

cohabitation as man and wife (There is actually a split of authority on this particular standard).

The person seeking to show a common-law marriage must prove these elements by clear and convincing evidence. If clear and convincing evidence is missing as to any part of the above-referenced test, the claim of a common-law marriage will fail.

WHAT PROOF DO I NEED TO SHOW A COMMON LAW MARRIAGE?

Most evidence of a common-law marriage comes from your everyday existence. Examples include:

  • Sharing a residence
  • Using the same last name
  • Filing joint income tax returns
  • Joint financial accounts and credit cards
  • Taking title to property as husband and wife
  • Listing a spouse as beneficiary in your Last Will and Testament, on life insurance policies or retirement accounts
  • Medical or health insurance records listing a spouse
  • Third party evidence of introductions and comments to third parties about marital status
  • Personal correspondence or other writings, such as hotel receipts, showing marital status.

If you don’t have enough of this kind of evidence to prove a common-law marriage by clear and convincing evidence, your claim will fail.

by David A. Tracy