Can I prove common law marriage?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can I prove common law marriage?

I was in a 8.5 year relationship in IA in which we lived together for about 8 years of it. He took me to look at wedding rings before I moved in. He wanted me to quit my job to help him take care of his 4 kids who he had shared care of. They ranged in age from 5 to 15 at the time. I also had 2 kids from a different relationships. He told me that he would help me with anything I needed money-wise since I no longer would have a job. He worked an hour and a half away so I took care of taking the kids to school, picking them up, making dinner, taking care of the house and taking them to and from sports practices. He had a house so I sold mine to move in with him. I thought that we would get married since he talked about it and took me to look at rings. A few years into the relationship, he told me a ring didn’t define our relationship. We had a joint credit card, we moved into a different house because he got a new job in a different town and we bought land to build a house in the future. I don’t know if he put my name on the house or land but he let me pick the house out and always referred to it as ours. His kids introduced me as their stepmom and my kids introduced him as their stepdad. He said I was named as the beneficiary if he passed away and would get the house, plus he had a life insurance policy naming me as the beneficiary. I was also on his health insurance and we did everything as a family including family vacations. I trusted him even though he didn’t really help me out money-wise. He would say,

Asked on February 9, 2019 under Family Law, Arizona


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

In Iowa (where a common law marriage would have to be established), ou must be able to prove three things to have a common law marriage:
1) That both you and he agreed that you were married.
2) That you lived together continuously.
3) That both of you in publically acted like a married couple.
#2 will not be a problem. #1 may or may not be a problem--it depends in large part on how he described your relationship to others; for example, did he refer to as his wife or as girlfriend? If, for example, he called you girlfriend, since a girlfriend is not a wife, the two of you would not have acted publically like a married couple. 
And #1 may be a problem to, since if you looked at rings but then did not get one and did not get married, that strongly implies that he chose to not get married and did not wan to be married--so there would be no agreement between both of you that you were married.
If you cannot show common law marriage, the fact that you took care of his children is irrelevant: that would not give you any rights.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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