The Keys to Recognizing Legal Marriage


To understand the difference between a common-law and legal marriage, we first need to know some basics about how marriages are legally recognized in California. Two people must adhere to several things to get started.

Legal Marriage in California

For your marital union to be legally valid in the state of California, it must meet all of these requirements.

  • Both people must consent to the marriage.
  • Each person must be over the age of 18.
  • Both people must not be related by blood.
  • Neither person may already be legally married to someone else.
  • Both people must be mentally capable of entering into legal contracts.
  • An authorized marriage license must be issued and signed by both people.
  • A recognized party must solemnize the marriage.

If any one of these requirements is not in compliance, then your union is not legally recognized.

Common-Law Marriage in California

You might have heard about “common law marriage.” Common-law marriage states that if you two have been living together for several years, hold each other out as husband and wife to the public, file joint tax returns, have joint assets, and other similar things, the state will recognize your union as a marriage entity. California does not do this.

However, there are certain times when a couple has been living together for several years and then splits, that one partner can ask the court for a spousal-support-like payment called “palimony.” Those cases are decided on a case-by-case basis.

Marriage from Another State or Country

If you were married in a ceremony in another state with a properly issued and recognized marriage license in a state that considers it valid, the marriage is also legally recognized in California as valid. If you were married overseas, the wedding is deemed valid in the United States as long as it was done following local laws when, where, and how it was performed at the time, and it doesn’t violate the principles of marriage in the United States.

Examples of Invalid Marriages from Other Countries

For example, a marriage ceremony performed between a person over the age of 18 and someone aged 17 may be considered valid in the country it was done. Suppose the 17-year-old were not allowed to be married in the United States for any reason (no parental approval, no formal interviews with child protection services, blood relative, mentally incapable, etc.). In that case, the marriage is not considered valid in the United States.

Another example is a marriage ceremony between two people over the age of 18 in another country. In the land of choice, it is considered valid. However, suppose one of the people involved in the marriage ceremony already had a legal marriage in the United States, in effect. In that case, the other country’s wedding is not considered valid or recognized in the United States.

Marriage is both complex and straightforward. Suppose two people want their romantic union to be recognized in the State of California as valid. In that case, they need to take the necessary steps to ensure it’s accurate following state law. If there are any questions about this, they are more than welcome to call a California family law firm such as the Garwood Attorneys.

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