Is There Common Law Marriage In California?

No, even when you have given the best seven years of your life:

As noted by the US Census, the percentage of married families continues declining while the percentages for all other family groups increase ( As more and more couples, especially seniors, choose cohabitation over marriage, the needlessly muddled views on the common law marriage doctrine remain a matter of perspective. One partner might think that living together without marriage for seven, ten or any other number of years will provide marital rights of spousal support, property division, and/or death benefits. Conversely, the other partner in that relationship – usually the partner in control of the finances – will view living together differently than marriage. Even though some vague, flawed understanding of a common law marriage might be shared by the partners, more is needed than time together to move beyond unmarried cohabitants status in California [the putative spouse theory: Family Code § 2251, with a good faith belief in the validity of an otherwise void or voidable marriage].

Common law marriage does not exist in California, irrespective of the parties’ consent and/or their cohabitation [Family Code § 300(a)]. Over 125 years ago, the California Supreme Court Justices made a harsh distinction, in the parlance of their times, between wives and harlots in Sharon v. Sharon, (1889) 79 Cal. 633. Though unrecognized by the all-male court at the time, older and financially stable men were, and are, just as much opportunists as other opportunists. Curbing specious claims as well as those aboveboard, the legislature defined marriage as more than a stable relationship, cohabitation, and children.

Without common law marriage, cohabitants in California are left to traditional contract remedies á la Marvin v. Marvin, (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660. Looking for consideration beyond sexual services, the Marvin court resurrected the inquiry into the marital-like relationship of the unmarried parties. While cohabitation at times helps sway the outcome, Alderson v. Alderson (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 450, living together is not required to sustain a Marvin claim, Bergen v. Wood (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 854. There is equality with Marvin, as Whorton v. Dillingham, (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 447, found that same sex partners enjoyed equal contract rights. Undoubtedly, there is fairness with Marvin as the court foresaw the “evolution of additional equitable remedies” Marvin at 684.