Common law marriage

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Common law marriage

I’ve been in a relationship 45 years. After 7 or 8 years together, I changed my last name to his. I didn’t do anything official to change it except change name on SS and signing his last name as mine. We file taxes as married. Is this really legal or do I have to go through other steps? We are both approaching 63 and I’m starting to wonder more since I had breast cancer and kidney cancer 2 years ago and benefits could be questionable if we are not officially common law. And if we aren’t common law, would it be advisble to marry or stay the way we are if cancer comes back and insurance problems? Right now I am on single plan through my employer and my husband is on his own plan with his employer.

Asked on February 21, 2018 under Family Law, Iowa


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

The best thing to do is to sit down with an estate planner and a marriage expert right now while everything is good and take a look at the big picture.  Iowa does recognize common law marriage.  Here are the three requirements:
The three elements that must be shown in order for a common law marriage to be legally created are: (1) present intent and agreement to be married, (2) continuous cohabitation, and (3) public declaration that the parties are husband and wife, sometimes referred to as “holding out” to the public as husband and wife.
So filing the taxes and changing your name are all elements counted in as your intent to be married.  The fact that you maintain separate insurance plans could be seen either way.  You should make sure that everything you own together has you listed as husband and wife.  You should consider a Will for each of you declaring eachother as your spouse.  All these elemnts show intent that you are married and I think then you will be fine.  Good luck.

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