Common law marriage, also known as “sui juris” or informal marriage, is a legally binding marriage established when two people cohabitate for a set amount of time and hold themselves out to others as a married couple. This couple will not have gone through a formal ceremony or have a valid marriage license. People entering into common law marriage must meet an array of criteria:
- Both parties must be of sound mind
- Both must meet legal age requirements, which can vary by state.
- Both people must hold themselves out to be married to family, friends and/or the community.
a. This can include changing your last name, referring to each other as husband and wife, and opening joint credit cards and banking accounts.
- Both parties must live together for a set amount of time, determined by the specific state.
Common law marriage is currently recognized in a handful of states while others will recognize these types of marriages that were established before a certain date. Still other states may not recognize common law marriage within its own borders but will acknowledge common law marriages that were lawfully established in another state. Arizona falls into the last category.
The state of Arizona does not currently have a common law marriage statute, which means that two people can live together as a couple, hold property together and call each other husband and wife but none of these actions will enable them to be legally acknowledged as married by the state. However, Arizona does recognize common law marriages established in other states, as long as those common law marriages are not otherwise void under Arizona law. This means that if you and your significant other lived in Alabama together and met all the requirements of common law marriage (living together for the designated number of years, putting yourself forward as husband and wife to others, etc.), you could move to Arizona and your marriage would still be legally binding and valid, if it is not otherwise void under Arizona Revised Statute 25-101. If you have not relocated with an existing common law marriage in place, you will have to meet the standard criteria for marriage established by the state of Arizona. This includes:
- Marriage license
- An appropriately authorized party to solemnize the marriage
- The marriage must be solemnized before the license expires.
Death and Divorce
If two people can become married simply by living together and calling each other husband and wife, can they get divorced simply by breaking up and moving out? Unfortunately, no. While the state of Arizona does not recognize common law marriages originating in the state, it does recognize those marriages legally established in other states. This means that two people who are common law married in a state that allows common law marriages, and they then relocate to Arizona, in the eyes of Arizona state law, they are legally married. That marriage will stay in effect until the two parties go through state divorce proceedings or one person passes away.
In the state of Arizona if one person dies, because common law marriage is not recognized, a cohabitating partner cannot be held responsible for the deceased’s debt. The two parties are not married under state law and as such the surviving partner is not legally liable for debt unless he or she has cosigned or is party to the existing contract. However, if two people have entered into a common law marriage and the state of Arizona acknowledges the marriage, the obligations and debts become those of a spouse.
If you meet all the valid common law requirements of your previous state of residence and have decided to dissolve your relationship you may need to begin divorce proceedings. In the state of Arizona, the legal term for filing for divorce is dissolution of marriage. As long as you have lived in Arizona for ninety days or more you can begin divorce proceedings. While most people would prefer a quick and painless divorce, it is rarely that easy. The time that it takes to finalize the process will depend on the cooperation of both parties and state specific requirements. For instance, Arizona has a sixty day waiting period that begins after the petitioning spouse serves the divorce petition to the other spouse. Additional factors that will directly impact the length of time your divorce could take are: child support, spousal support, division of property, etc. If both parties agree to the divorce and how to divide assets, the proceedings may be resolved relatively quickly once the waiting period is completed. However, if the divorce is contested or children are involved it could be significantly longer until the dissolution is finalized. In the event that you share minor children, you will be required to file a parenting plan, child support worksheet and attend parenting classes mandated by the court.
If you are facing a break up and believe that you are part of a common law marriage recognized within the state of Arizona, you should consult with an experienced attorney. Marriage and divorce can have long lasting repercussions for the rest of your life. Working with a skilled legal professional can help ensure the road ahead is a positive one.