Divorce Myth: Oregon has common law marriage

clm As divorce lawyers based in Portland, Oregon, we get a surprising number of questions about common law marriage. Common law marriage is where a legal marriage is created without a marriage license or marriage ceremony.  Usually the couple has to (1) live together for a significant period of time, (2) hold themselves out as a married couple, (3) and intend to be married.  I am surprised by how many people believe Oregon has common law marriage.  We don’t, hence the myth.  If you live together in Oregon, to be married, you have to comply with the marriage statutes.  A few states do allow for common law marriage. .  Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, and the District of Columbia recognize common-law marriages created within their borders.

About Sean Stephens

By Sean Stephens Google + Sean Stephens is divorce and family law lawyer, and a founding member of Stephens & Margolin LLP He was born in Eugene, Oregon and is a fourth generation Oregonian. Sean Stephens attended the University of Oregon, and graduated in with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, with a minor in English Literature. His psychology studies emphasized early childhood development. You can find more about Sean Stephens at Stephens & Margolin LLP Follow him
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13 Responses to Divorce Myth: Oregon has common law marriage

  1. Jim Riley says:

    I lived with a woman in Oregon for 8 years. She purchased a home 5 years ago. We have gone or seperate ways. She now says I still owe
    her x amount each month be cause we lived together for so long.
    I entered that relationship with only a truck and a job. I left with only the money in my checking account and my clothes. I don’t see where I am responsible for anything. She can’t afford the house without my income even though she gets $1600.00 a month alimony from her first marriage. Am I resonsible for anything legally. I went into it with nothing,left with nothing.

    • admin says:

      Even if your relationship could be considered a domestic partnership under Oregon Law, she would never have a claim against you for spousal support. Spousal support is only available in a divorce/legal separation. You may want to consult with an attorney if you and she commingled your finances during the relationship resulting in her leaving the relationship with assets.

  2. Sandy says:

    How does one comply with statues? And this from schooled lawyers… tsk, tsk!

    Or does he/she mean statutes?

  3. Leslie says:

    My elderly father wants to put a down payment on a house, keep it in his name, and let my “husband” and I make all the payments and live in it, and at the time when my father dies, I would inherit ownership of the property. My husband and I were legally divorced in 1987, and then got back together in 2003. We do not have joint bank accounts or jointly owned property. He pays a good portion of the bills, but was also a dead beat dad whom I didn’t get any support from while I raised our kids who are now grown, all those years after the divorce. I just want to know if down the road he would have any claim on that property if he had been putting in money on the payments, etc?

    • admin says:


      You should arrange for a consult with our office or another lawyer to go over the facts of your matter carefully. Generally speaking, the arrangement raises concerns about a domestic partnership claim being filed by your ex, but I would have to know a lot more.

  4. William Conner says:

    In your comment on January 8, 2010, you stated “Even if your relationship could be considered a domestic partnership under Oregon Law”. I thought HB 2839 stated “domestic partnership” was defined as a civil contract between two individuals of the same sex. I didn’t think it mentioned or even implied heterosexual couples. Is this correct?

    Thank You

  5. Doug Boy says:

    I beg to differ. A common law marriage does not have to be recognized by the State. If you want your common law marriage to be licensed in recognition with the State, for US Resident Alien tax kickbacks as a privileged US individual citizen, then find those states that recognize and will license such. But, typically, 2 people who join together in a common law marriage, do not need a state license to be bound by marriage contract. The common law marriage is between persons legally capable of making marriage contract, per verba de praesenti, followed by cohabitation. ~BLD If you have a common law marriage, you have a contract. If you want to pay taxes together, have common law marriage in a state that recognizes it, or move to one that does. A common law marriage is recognized by some US States regardless of prior residence and/or domicile. They will be happy to take your taxes. Marriage licenses used to be issued by the State for permission to intermarry, without the consent of the Father and the Mother, times have changed. The main reason Common Law marriage is not accepted in a majority of the states, is because they don’t want people to understand common law and its superiority over statutory law. Common law is only litigated in a Court of Record, by the People who are Sovereigns.

  6. Oklahoma still recognizes common law marriage.

  7. lady says:

    so i came to U.S. single then i went back to my country to get married on a common law (civil marriage with a civil license from asia) . When i went back to here in Oregon. our marriage was rocky and now we have our own life. My question is. Do I have to go through divorce for me to chance my last name back to my sinlge last name and to get married again?

  8. Nicole says:

    I have been domestic partners, and have a now 23 year old daughter, with the same man for 31 years. We have lived in a home that was purchased with an inheritance from his side of the family although we both have shared equally in paying the insurance and taxes on it. The home is in his name. We have kept separate bank accounts. We purchased the furnishing for the home jointly. If we separate and go our separate ways, do I have any financial rights to the home or its contents?

  9. Gail says:

    Hello I hope you can answer questions I have wondered about for 32 years.
    I met “my boyfriend”?? 32 years ago when he move to Oregon from California. we had a son in 1980. the problem is he was a married man and still is to this day. also has a child with his wife who is 39 now. he has been afraid to get a divorce because she might take everything we have our house and cars. so he has layed low all these years thinking she will not want anything if he doesnt stir things up. and she has done nothing “so far”. and I have no husband or insurance all these years. I wish I could start my life over and had never fell in love with this man but i did. i’m so sad with my life and writing today for answers to what happens when he dies does she get everything even though he has been seperated from her & has signed paper work at his employment saying i am to get everything like a wife?
    Thank You For Your Help

  10. Kathryn says:

    @ Gail…

    I believe his legally married wife will get everything that is in his name. One of my best friends was married to a guy, but they have been separated for 4 yrs, both had new lives with different people, when he up and had a heart attack. They never bothered with the divorce.

    When he died, EVERYTHING went to her. Both of his insurance policies (he was disabled military), she gets $2,000 dollars and military benefits for the rest of her life, and even his car. His live in girlfriend of 4 years got nothing, his kids, she was nice enough to let them have the cheaper life insurance policy…..but she did not have to.

    Ironically, HER boyfriend of several years is enjoying the fruits of that benefit. So, I am assuming the situation will be similar to yours, unless you are named in a legal will. Maybe that would change something. 🙂

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