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Are you married even though you had no wedding?

As you probably know, Ohio requires you and your spouse to divide your marital property fairly and equitably when you divorce. But if the two of you have lived together for many years without benefit of marriage, must you still obtain an actual divorce and split your property fairly and equitably? The answer is, “it depends.”

As Unmarried Equality explains, Ohio is one of the 16 states that recognizes some form of common law marriage, the concept that two consenting adults can, under certain circumstances, create their own legal marriage without bringing the state or any church into the matter. In the case of Ohio, though, your common law marriage is a valid one only if you and your spouse began your relationship with each other in Ohio prior to October 10, 1991.

Common law marriage requirements

Not every cohabitation arrangement constitutes a common law marriage. You and your spouse must do something specific to create yours, such as one or more of the following:

  • Declare yourself married to each other to your family, friends, coworkers, etc.
  • Refer to each other as “my husband” and “my wife”
  • File joint income tax returns
  • Use the same last name

If you are the woman in the common law marriage, however, you need not use your husband’s last name if you do not want to, nor do you need to legally change your last name to his. You can continue to keep your own name on your Social Security card, your driver’s license, your credit card accounts, and all other documents, including any joint tax return you file with your husband. Many common law wives use their own name in professional or legal situations and their husband’s name in social situations.

Other states

If you have a valid common law marriage in one state, all other states must also recognize the validity of your marriage. What this means is that if you and your spouse began your relationship after October 10, 1991, in order for you to have a valid Ohio common law marriage, you must have established your relationship as a common law marriage in one of the states that recognizes this form of marriage before subsequently moving to Ohio.

This is educational information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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