Common Law Marriage

Did you realize that nowhere in the Bible does it tell us how to become married? It does not describe a particular ceremony a couple must go through. It does not tell us at what age we can get married, nor does it even give us any vows that a couple must to say in order to become a married couple. It does teach that marriage is between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24). 

   Having a sexual relationship does not make a couple married. In the Bible a sexual relationship between a man and woman who are not married is called “fornication” (I Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19 KJV). If individuals who are not married who have a sexual relationship are married when they have that relationship, there would be no such thing as “fornication.” All sexual relationships would either be acts of “getting married” or adultery. 

   Just because a man and woman live together does not make them married. This can become a common law marriage, but just living together does not make it a common law marriage. (More on this below).

   The closest description as to when a man and woman are married is given in Genesis 2:24 which says, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined (cleave, KJV)to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” When that happens, they are married. Since God has not legislated as to when a marriage takes place, often the States or government will legislate what a couple must do in order to be married. God teaches us that we must obey the laws of the government as long as those laws do not violate His laws (Romans 13:1-7; Acts 5:29). Therefore, to be married couples must do whatever the State requires them to do to be married. It may only be to sign a paper stating they are now a married couple. What if a State does not require anything of a couple or as is common in several States that States recognize what is called “a common law marriage?”

    “A common law marriage in the state of Colorado can be defined as a marriage so long as the man and the womanare over the age of eighteen and agree to maintain a marital status. This means that the couple lives together, displays a marital status, and wishes to be recognized as husband and wife.” Colorado Family Law Guide says, “A common law marriage in Colorado is another way of entering into a marriage - an alternative to a ceremonial marriage by which a couple will obtain a marriage license and then go through a ceremony. At the end of the day, a couple in a common law marriage is “just as married” as any other married couple, but may encounter issues actually proving their marriage exists.”

    Just living together does not make them married. They must each mutually and publicly let it be made known that they consider themselves as a married couple. They can do this by expressing that publicly or by filing a joint tax return. Contrary to a common view that if a couple lives together for “X” number of years they are considered married. Once there is a “common law marriage” the only way that can legally be broken is by obtaining a legal divorce. These States recognize common law marriages: Colorado, Washington D.C., Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

    The fact that some States have common law marriages and some do not presents problems. What if a common law couple moves to a State that does not accept common law marriages? Are they married or do they have to comply with that States’ requirement for marriage? Often States do recognize couples coming from common law States, but often their regulation is that the common law marriage must have occurred before a certain date. Fore example, Florida states they the couple must have been “married” before 1968. Other States have other dates they accept. 

    Quiet often couples live together for a period of time and then decide that they want to be married. Until they make that commitment to be married and manifest what it takes to be recognized as a married couple, are committing the sin for fornication.

    I may be simple minded, but if a couple wants to be married, why not comply with the State’s requirements rather than just declaring marriage by common law? Generally speaking, all that is required is that a couple pay for a marriage license, sign it, and get another proper person to sign it. (In Colorado it can be anyone. Colorado does not require it to be a minister nor a state official). They do not have to go through any sort of ceremony. 


Wayne Burger