Common Law Marriage in Utah

Utah allows couples who have been living in a marriage-like relationship to obtain a court order declaring them legally married to each other (along with all the rights and benefits that designation carries). Many refer to this process as obtaining a “common law marriage” even though the proper term for this process is obtaining judicial recognition of an unsolemnized marriage.

Common reasons to ask the court to declare a relationship as a marriage are so you can get divorced and have the court fairly divide whatever property you accumulated during your relationship. (If you acquire property while you are not married then you cannot take advantage of marital property division laws). Obviously the court cannot grant a couple a “divorce” unless it first determines they were married to each other. Other common reasons are to claim damages in wrongful death lawsuits, to be eligible to inherit property from your partner, to claim insurance benefits, retirement benefits, survivor benefits, etc.

To have the court declare your relationship a “common law” or unsolemnized marriage you must show:

  1. Both sides are of legal age and capable of giving consent to marry each other;
  2. Are legally capable of entering into a solemnized (also known as a “traditional” marriage). For example, neither spouse is already married to someone else or seeking to marry a close relative.
  3. Have lived together;
  4. Treat each other as though they are married; and
  5. Hold themselves out to the public and acquire a reputation as a married couple.

Courts recognize both opposite and same-sex marriages if the couple meets these elements. However, there are still some issues the courts are working out with same-sex marriages, particularly with respect to couples who were living together as married before same-sex marriage was recognized as legal in Utah.

To show a couple consented to marry each other there needs to be evidence of that fact. Such evidence may consist of an express written agreement, testimony from witnesses who knew the couple and how they assumed marital responsibilities, maintaining joint bank and credit accounts, jointly purchasing and using property like a house, the couple using the same surname or giving their children the partner’s surname, filing joint tax returns listing themselves as a married couple, referring to each other as “husband” or “wife” in the presence of third-parties, and declaring each other to be married in official documents such as deeds, wills, insurance policies, etc.

Once the court recognizes a couple as being married they are entitled to the same legal rights and protections as a married couple as if they had obtained a traditional formal marriage in the beginning. The court may make its ruling retroactive to when it determines their marriage began.

Do you need help obtaining a “common law” marriage? Give the attorneys at Wiser Family Law a call today at 855-254-2600.

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