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Is Common Law Marriage Recognized in Oklahoma?

Updated:
5/22/2024
Table of Contents

Many couples who choose to live together without a formal marriage ceremony in Oklahoma want to know if common law marriage is legal in their state. The answer is affirmative, but it requires a deep understanding of the state’s laws and regulations to do appropriately.

At Yarborough Law Group, our cohabitation agreement attorneys are well-versed in these matters and are ready to provide the necessary guidance and legal advice. Continue reading for our comprehensive overview of common-law marriage recognition in Oklahoma.

What Is a Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma?

Common law marriage presents a distinct type of marital partnership acknowledged in a handful of states, including Oklahoma. Unlike conventional marriage, a common law union dispenses with the need for a formal ceremony, marriage license, or an officiant. Instead, these unions are formed based on the couple’s conduct and their expressed intent to marry.

In Oklahoma, couples who live together and hold themselves out as married may be deemed legally married under common law. This can occur spontaneously, as state law does not stipulate a minimum cohabitation period or mandate a formal agreement of marriage.

It’s worth noting that while Oklahoma acknowledges common-law marriage, there exists no specific statute governing it. Instead, the recognition of common law unions is rooted in historical judicial decisions.

These rulings have established that a common law marriage may arise when both parties consent to marriage, maintain an exclusive and enduring relationship, cohabit, publicly present themselves as married, and possess the legal capacity to wed.

What Entitlements Am I Granted in a Valid Common Law Marriage?

If your common law marriage is deemed valid in Oklahoma, you are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as formally married couples. This includes considerations like tax implications, benefits associated with employment, entitlement to inherit from your spouse’s estate, and the entitlement to a share of marital assets in the event of divorce.

What Criteria Must Be Met for a Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma?

Approximate Criteria for Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma

Contrary to common belief, cohabitation duration doesn’t automatically equate to a common law marriage. In Oklahoma, no statutory law defines common law marriage requirements. Instead, the state’s courts have set specific criteria. These include:

  • A mutual agreement to be married
  • Maintainance of an exclusive and "permanent" relationship
  • Cohabitation as spouses
  • Public representation as a married couple

Notably, certain factors can be useful additions to your case but don’t necessarily establish a common law marriage on their own. These include having a child together, joint property ownership, and filing joint tax returns. However, the latter can serve as evidence of public representation as a married couple.

How to Prove a Common Law Marriage in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, you must furnish clear and convincing evidence to support your common law union. It should be compelling enough to persuade the judge that your claim is highly probable. You may consider presenting:

  • A written agreement or document signed by both parties expressing your intention to marry.
  • Affidavits or court testimony from you and your partner.
  • Affidavits or testimony from friends, family, or neighbors affirming their understanding of your relationship and community recognition of you as a married couple.
  • Financial documents from joint bank accounts or credit accounts.
  • Joint tax returns filed as a married couple.
  • Legal documents like leases, deeds, or mortgage papers showing joint ownership of property.
  • Insurance, employment, or other benefit forms or policies listing your partner as your spouse.
  • School records, birth certificates, or religious documents identifying both partners as parents of a child.
  • Records indicating the use of your partner's last name by you, your children, or both.

While there is no specific duration of cohabitation required for a common law marriage to be deemed valid, a longer period of living together and acting as a married couple can strengthen your case.

Why You Might Need to Prove the Existence of a Common Law Marriage

You may find it necessary to initiate legal or administrative proceedings to validate your common law marriage when pursuing a divorce but facing challenges from your partner regarding the existence of your marriage.

You also may need to prove a common law marriage if your partner passes away without a will designating you as a beneficiary. In this situation, you would need to establish your marital status in probate court to assert inheritance rights as a surviving spouse.

Common Law Marriage and Same-Sex Partnerships in Oklahoma

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015), which legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states, it is expected that Oklahoma courts will acknowledge same-sex common law marriages under the same criteria as those applied to heterosexual couples.

However, it is important to note that same-sex couples may encounter additional challenges in establishing their common law marriage, particularly if their relationship commenced prior to the Obergefell ruling. This is primarily due to the potential lack of evidence they may have to substantiate their claim.

For example, before the legalization of same-sex marriage, these couples were not permitted to file joint tax returns or designate their partner as their spouse on numerous official documents.

Furthermore, societal pressures may have made them less likely to publicly present themselves as a married couple. This does not imply that they will never be able to validate their common law marriage, but it may require more effort and evidence to do so.

Is It Necessary to Legally Divorce If I Am in a Common Law Marriage?

In Oklahoma, it’s imperative to formally file for common law divorce through the Oklahoma District Court to dissolve a common law marriage. Neglecting to do so can result in substantial complications. For example, any subsequent marriages would be deemed invalid, and in the event of your demise without a will, your former spouse might assert a claim to your estate.

What Am I Eligible for Upon the Dissolution of a Common Law Marriage?

Upon the termination of a common law marriage, you are eligible for the same entitlements as you would be in a traditional marriage. This includes a fair division of all marital assets and liabilities and the arrangement of alimony.

However, if you are cohabitating without being in a common law marriage, you are not eligible for property or debt division under family law statutes. You may still have a claim to a portion of the assets or debts, but this would need to be pursued in a civil court rather than a family law court.

What Rights Do I Have in the Absence of a Common Law Marriage?

Even if your relationship isn’t recognized as a valid common law marriage in Oklahoma, it doesn’t mean you lack legal rights or responsibilities related to that relationship.

For example, if you and your unmarried partner have children together, both of you are obligated to provide for them. Therefore, if you separate, you have the right to establish paternity and request court orders for child support, custody, and visitation.

In the case of other disputes with your partner, such as disagreements over property rights, you may find protection under the state’s contract or tort laws. If you experience abuse, your right to legal protection remains intact, regardless of the existence of a valid common law marriage.

Proving Your Common Law Marriage: Get Professional Assistance

The judge’s decision in your case hinges on the specific details of your circumstances, which may be subjectively interpreted. As such, presenting your case effectively to the judge and adhering to all court rules and procedures is crucial when proving your common law marriage.

For individuals lacking legal knowledge, this can compound the complexity and stress of an already difficult situation. Seeking professional advice beforehand is strongly recommended.

At Yarborough Law Group, our team of seasoned family law attorneys stands ready to offer the guidance you need. We are dedicated to assisting you in navigating this intricate process with confidence. Contact us today for personalized legal support.

Cole Yarborough

Cole Yarborough, a top graduate from Oklahoma City University School of Law, brings a unique blend of experience to Yarborough Law Group. His background as a private investigator, process server, and legal intern, combined with a family legacy in law and law enforcement, equips him with a comprehensive understanding of both criminal and civil law, making him a formidable advocate in various legal matters.

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