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Massachusetts Public Records
Common Law Marriage

Massachusetts Common Law Marriage

What is Common-Law Marriage in Massachusetts?

A common law marriage is one in which people who have not gotten a marriage license or done a formal ceremony live together for a period of time and are regarded as ‘married’ by friends, family, and the community. Partners in a common-law marriage typically refer to each other as spouses, share household duties and expenses, raise children together, have joint bank accounts, file joint tax returns, sign contracts together to buy a home, and use the same last name.

Common-law marriages include certain marriage entitlements and rights. They include:

  • Hospital visitation rights
  • Jail or prison visitation
  • The right to make decisions about emergency or end of life medical care
  • Access to records
  • The division of property pursuant to a divorce
  • Child custody rights
  • The right to spousal support
  • Rights of inheritance

Common law marriages enjoy the benefits of a formal marriage. However, this type of union is not without some disadvantages. Proving a common law marriage can sometimes be complex. This means, in the event of a divorce or breakup, parties in a common-law union may not be entitled to a legal settlement and division of property. In case of the death of a person in a common-law marriage, it may be difficult or impossible for the surviving partner to collect any death benefit or inheritance if they cannot provide evidence of a marriage or the intention to do so, except where there is a will.

Does Massachusetts Recognize Common-law Marriages?

Massachusetts does not allow common law marriage. However, under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, Massachusetts must recognize couples who are in a common-law marriage in another state. When people in a common law marriage in another state move to Massachusetts, their union is regarded as legitimate. There are 16 states in the United States that recognize common-law marriages, they include Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, South Carolina, Utah, Montana, Kansas. The laws in each state may differ from each other which may cause difficulty when a party is trying to prove common law marriage in Massachusetts.

What is a Domestic Partnership in Massachusetts?

A domestic partnership is a term that applies to couples who live together but are not married. Domestic partnerships are made official at a courthouse or government office. Individuals who register for domestic partnerships must be over the age of 18 and unmarried. A domestic partnership may also be referred to as or civil union in some states. Couples in Massachusetts must fulfill specific requirements in order to qualify for a domestic marriage. They include

  • Sharing living expenses
  • Being responsible for the well-being of each other and dependents
  • Being mentally capable of entering into a contract
  • They must be unmarried and not have a domestic partnership with someone else

Couples in Massachusetts who are in a domestic partnership enjoy many legal benefits as married couples. Such as hospital visitation rights, prison visitation rights, family healthcare coverage, etc. However, a domestic partnership is not the same as being legally married. In the event of death, a surviving spouse in a domestic partnership is not entitled to the assets of the deceased, unless a will is provided.

Couples in a domestic partnership in Massachusetts may choose to terminate their partnership by filling out a domestic partner termination form. To register a domestic partnership, both partners must visit the city clerk’s office to file a domestic partner registration, signed under the penalties of perjury. A certificate of domestic partnership will be issued by the city clerk to verify the existence of the relationship.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement in Massachusetts?

This is a contract made by people who live together but are unmarried. This contract may concern property, financial, and other matters relating to the relationship. The laws which govern cohabitation agreements in Massachusetts were set by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1998. The cohabitation agreement document details the procedure for termination of the relationship and the division of real estate and properties in the event of death. It also addresses how finances will be managed if one party becomes incapacitated or unemployed. The cohabitation agreement is drafted by an attorney, under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Massachusetts Common-law Marriage and Palimony

Massachusetts does not recognize palimony. Couples who are not in a legal marriage are not entitled to palimony or alimony.

What Are the Requirements for a Common-law Marriage in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts does not allow common law marriage. However, the state allows domestic partnerships and will recognize couples in a common-law marriage from another state. Individuals who meet the requirements for a domestic partnership may fill out a form, and take their information to a nearby city hall to register. Each partner must official declare that

  • They are both mentally capable of entering a contract
  • They are responsible for each other’s well-being, and the well-being of any dependents
  • They share living expenses
  • They are not married to anyone else and are not related by blood
  • They will notify the city clerk if there is a change in the status of their relationship

How many years do you have to Live Together for Common-law Marriage in Massachusetts?

Regardless of how long a couple has lived together in Massachusetts, they will not be regarded as married without a marriage certificate. Couples in a common-law marriage who relocate to Massachusetts will be recognized and their union will be treated as a full-fledged, legally binding marriage. However, if one party is deceased, it may be difficult to prove evidence of their union in a Massachusetts court. Although couples in Massachusetts cannot be in a common-law marriage, the state does allow for domestic partnerships.

How Do You Prove Common-law Marriage in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts does not allow common-law marriages. Only couples who were previously in a common-law marriage in another state may be entitled to a common-law marriage in Massachusetts. The specific requirements to prove that a couple was in a common-law marriage vary from state to state. Some of the documentation that may prove a common-law marriage include

  • Bank statements showing joint ownership of an account
  • Insurance policies naming the other party as beneficiary
  • Birth certificates and school records naming both parties as parents
  • Employment records listing the other party as a spouse or partner
  • Credit card statements, loan documents, mortgages, and other documents showing that both parties share financial obligations
  • Deeds to jointly owned property, including real estate, motor vehicles, etc

How Do You Prove Common-law Marriage in Massachusetts After Death?

In the event of death, the surviving partner may prove the union by providing an affidavit stating

  • The nature of the relationship
  • Whether there was a ceremony
  • When and where the couple agreed to become spouses

The partner may also provide affidavits from friends and family members indicating knowledge of the relationship, where the couple lived, and if they were viewed as married.

Third-party websites also provide an alternative to obtaining public vital records. These non-governmental platforms come with intuitive search tools that help simplify the process of accessing single or multiple records. However, record availability on third-party sites tends to vary because they’re independent of government sources. To obtain public marriage records, requesters may need to provide:

  • The full name of both spouses (include first, middle, and last names)
  • The date the marriage occurred (month, date and year)
  • The location where the marriage occurred (city and county)

Do Common-law Marriages Require a Divorce?

Couples in a legal common-law marriage who wish to separate will need to pursue a standard divorce like any couple who has a marriage license. Massachusetts couples who are in a common-law marriage from another state may file for divorce in Massachusetts. Individuals in a domestic partnership who wish to separate may simply file the paperwork to separate. However, the process of separation may become complicated when assets or children are involved.

Does a Common-law Wife Have Rights in Massachusetts?

Couples who moved to Massachusetts while in a legal common-law marriage will enjoy the benefits that honor the marriage where the union was made legal. The specific rules may differ from state to state. Hence, couples who decide to end their common law marriage will follow the public acts and judicial proceedings of the state they got married in.

Can a Common-law Wife Collect Social Security in Massachusetts?

Wives who moved to Massachusetts while in a legal common-law marriage may be able to collect social security if the union met all of the requirements in the state where the union was legalized. Individuals who are applying for Social Security benefits must provide evidence to prove the union, such as a statement from each spouse and a statement from a blood relative of each if both spouses are living. If one party is deceased, a statement from the surviving widow or widower and statements from two blood relatives of the decedent may be sufficient. If both partners are deceased, a statement from a blood relative of each spouse may be used to prove the union. Relatives who are willing to make a statement may do so by filling and completing the Statement of Marital Relationship form at any Social Security office. The Social Security benefits entitled to a wife in a common-law marriage include spousal benefits, survivor benefits, and even benefits from an ex-common law spouse. Other supporting documents to prove the marriage may also be requested.

Are Common-law Wives Entitled to Half in Massachusetts?

In the case of couples who were considered married in another state, common-law wives have the same marital rights and entitlements as spouses in the state where the union was legalized. While every state has different rules, spouses are not automatically entitled to half of their partner's property. Ownership of property acquired during the marriage will be determined by the name on the title deed. In most common law states, surviving partners of deceased parties have a right to claim half of the spouse’s property. If there is a will in place which leaves a lesser amount to the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse may be able to contest this in court to inherit the legal amount specified by the state.

How Do You Get A common-law Marriage Affidavit in Massachusetts?

Common law affidavits are unobtainable in Massachusetts. A common-law affidavit is a document that shows proof of a common-law marriage between two partners. Common-law affidavits must be notarized and filed with a county clerk. Some of the statements included in a common-law affidavit include:

  • The state where the couple agreed to be united
  • The date when the decision was made
  • Any previous marriage relationships. If there are such marriages, the dates and supporting documents must be provided
  • Proof that both parties are 18 years old or older

When Did Common-law Marriage End in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts does not have a history of common-law marriages. In 1877, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a common-law marriage which is recognized by a U.S state will be held valid in Massachusetts.

Is a Domestic Partnership the Same as a common-law marriage?

A domestic partnership is not the same as a common-law marriage. A domestic partnership is similar to formal marriage. It is a legal alternative for couples who live together. Domestic partnerships provide similar benefits to traditional marriage. Although a domestic partnership legalized in Massachusetts will only be recognized within the state of Massachusetts.

Does the Federal Government Recognize Massachusetts Common-law Marriages?

Couples who are in a legal common law marriage are eligible for federal benefits as a married couple. Obtaining a domestic partnership requires filling out a form, paying the required fees, and taking the information to a nearby city hall. Even though Massachusetts does not recognize common-law marriage. Couples who are able to prove their marriage in another state will qualify for all marital benefits.



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