Does Common Law Marriage Exist in New York?

Marriage is a legal institution that comes in various forms in the US. Each state’s laws are also very different. As New Yorkers consider the nature of their committed relationships, the issue frequently arises: is common-law marriage legally recognized in New York?

When it comes to common-law marriage, they have a unique jurisdiction in this matter. As we learn more about the different types of marital arrangements inside the state, it is critical to understand the implications, legality, and potential penalties for couples who may find themselves in informal unions. 

In this article, you will learn about the different factors that affect common-law marriage and what they mean for couples in New York who are trying to figure out their rights and responsibilities as a married couple.

The Definition

A union between two individuals who’ve lived together and presented themselves as married without going through a formal ceremony or obtaining a marriage license. This means that even without a marriage certificate, you and your partner can be considered married by the state of New York if certain conditions are met.

You and your partner must have the intent to be married, which means that you both must agree to be in a marital relationship. You must live together as a couple for a significant period. While there’s no specific time requirement, it’s generally accepted that you must live together for several years.

Living together and presenting yourselves as a married couple isn’t enough to establish a common-law marriage. Friends, family, and neighbors must view you and your partner as a married couple.

State Recognition of Common Law Marriage

If you have been living together with your partner for a long time and consider yourselves to be married under common law, the state of New York won’t legally recognize your relationship as a marriage. 

The state doesn’t have any specific laws or provisions that validate or acknowledge common-law marriages. New York follows the principle of ceremonial marriage. This means that to be legally married in New York, you must obtain a marriage license and have a formal marriage ceremony performed by an authorized officiant.

To guarantee that your relationship is legally recognized and protected, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney and consider entering into a formal marriage. This will provide you with the legal rights and responsibilities that come with a recognized marriage in the state of New York.

Legal Rights and Responsibilities in New York

If you’re in a common-law marriage in New York, it’s important to understand the legal rights and responsibilities that come with a recognized marriage in the state. While New York doesn’t recognize common-law marriages entered into after 1933, it does recognize those that were validly established in other states. If you meet the requirements for a common-law marriage in another state and move to New York, your marriage will still be recognized.

In New York, the legal rights and responsibilities of married couples are extensive. These include the right to make medical decisions on behalf of your spouse, the right to inherit property in the absence of a will, the right to file joint tax returns, and the responsibility to financially support your spouse. If the marriage ends, you may be entitled to spousal support or alimony, as well as a fair division of property and assets.

Keep in mind that if you’re in a common-law marriage, you may face challenges in asserting your rights in New York. It’s advisable to consult with a family law attorney to understand your specific situation and ensure that your legal rights are protected.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in New York

Consider exploring other legal ways to establish legal rights and responsibilities in a relationship.

  1. One option is to enter into a domestic partnership. This is a legal status that provides many of the same benefits and protections as marriage. Domestic partnerships are available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in New York. By registering as domestic partners, you can have certain rights, such as the ability to make medical decisions for your partner, access to health insurance coverage, and inheritance rights.
  1. Another option is to create a cohabitation agreement. This is a contract between you and your partner that outlines the rights and responsibilities of your partner, access to health insurance coverage, and inheritance rights.
  2. The party during the relationship and in the event of a separation. Cohabitation agreements can cover various aspects, including property division, financial support, and child custody arrangements.
  1. You can consider creating a durable power of attorney and a healthcare proxy. These legal documents allow you to designate someone to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

Considering these alternatives can help ensure that your relationship is legally recognized and protected. 

Steps to Protect Your Relationship in New York

There are certain actions you can take to safeguard your relationship and establish rights and responsibilities.

  • Drafting a cohabitation agreement. This document outlines the rights and obligations of each partner, including property division, financial support, and child custody arrangements. It acts as a legal contract, providing clarity and protection for both parties.
  • Make sure to designate your partner as a beneficiary in important legal documents. This includes your will, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts. By doing so, you’re making sure that your partner is entitled to inherit your assets and benefits in the event of your passing.
  • Establish joint bank accounts or purchase property together. These actions not only demonstrate a commitment to your relationship but also provide evidence of your intention to share assets and liabilities.
  • Consult with a family law attorney who specializes in non-traditional relationships. They can provide guidance on the specific steps you should take to protect your relationship, based on your unique circumstances.

Taking these proactive measures can help safeguard your relationship and ensure that your rights and responsibilities are recognized and protected under the law.


Common-law marriage doesn’t exist in New York. While some states recognize common-law marriage, New York isn’t one of them. But there are alternative ways to protect your relationship, legal rights, and responsibilities. It’s important to understand the laws in your state and take the necessary steps to defend your relationship.


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