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Common Law Marriages in New York State


Popular culture perpetuates the myth of common law marriage, usually by setting forth the dictum that if a couple stays together for a period of time such as seven years, they convert their relationship into one that has all the rights of a legally performed and recognized marriage. The reality is that common law marriages only exist in a few states, and New York is not one of them.

To be legally married in New York you must marry formally and follow all requirements of the law. When a couple decides to forego a license and marriage ceremony, and instead cohabits without going through with a civil or church ceremony, generally they put themselves in the position of foregoing the rights of being married. This means that upon parting ways, a claim for spousal support or spousal maintenance usually will not be ordered. Nor will a claim for an equitable distribution of assets succeed.

Another problem for couples who fail to marry legally is that they are not entitled to inherit automatically when a partner passes away. Even if not legally wed, couples still have an obligation to support any children born during their relationship.