Common Law Marriage Ohio: Is It an Option?

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By Divorce & Finance

If you were considering getting married lately but can’t afford traditional ceremonies in Ohio, you must remember that common law marriage in Ohio is not an option.

Unfortunately, the state of Ohio only recognized common-law unions until October 1991, and at that time, courts had specific requirements.

This article will discuss in-depth marriage laws in Ohio, common-law marriage in the state, the divorce process, and other valuable information.

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Does Ohio Recognize Common Law Marriage?

Before we dive into our main topic, let’s quickly explain the concept of a common law marital relationship.

Being married by common-law does not mean that you have to go through a formal wedding ceremony or receive a marriage license. However, a valid common-law marriage usually confers the advantages and obligations of a legal marriage.

Most states set standard requirements for common-law marriages, which are:

  1. Both partners must be living together, and the amount of time required differs from one state to another.
  2. Both partners must be above 18 years old, must be fair-minded, and must not be previously married to another person. In other words, the couple must have the capacity to marry.
  3. The couple must intend to be married.
  4. Both partners must hold themselves as a married couple in front of their family, friends, and community.

Some states process common-law marriage through their statutes, while others through court decisions. The nine states that still offer common-law marriages are the following: Iowa, Colorado, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.

Rings over official marriage certificate as common law marriage is not an option in ohio

It is necessary to mention that Pennsylvania allowed common-law marriages before 2005. Therefore, any couple who entered common-law marriage before 2005 in Pennsylvania is still considered married.

Ohio is one of the states that does not recognize common-law marriage. Unlike a few other states, Ohio does not allow you to receive marital rights and responsibilities by simply living together with your partner for a specific period. According to Ohio laws, any common-law marriage entered after October 10, 1991, is considered illegal and unacceptable.

However, suppose the legal demands of states through which common-law marriage is provided are met. Your Ohio common-law marriage is recognized in that case, provided it took place in those other states.

Subsequently, to end a common-law marriage in Ohio, the couple must take legal actions in conformity with the ceremonial and licensing regulations of the other states (i.e., the state where you got married by common law).

Therefore, the Ohio common-law marriage only exists if you got married by common law in another state or if you established your union before October 10, 1991.

What if You Decide To Move to Ohio?

Let’s suppose that you decided to move and settle in Ohio after living in one of the states mentioned above or Pennsylvania. You and your spouse were married by common-law and seek validation in Ohio to preserve your rights. Thus, you should consult a family law attorney to receive validation for your marriage according to the marriage laws in Ohio.

Keep in mind that you can get married by common-law even if you don’t have the right or ability to get married to anyone while living with your other half.

Two cases of which could be:

  1. If you live with your partner and either of you gets a divorce from a former spouse.
  2. If you move in with a married person and their spouse dies during your stay with this person.

Initially, you could not marry as soon as you moved in with your partner; however, following either a divorce or death of a spouse, you gain that capacity back. As soon as your common-law marriage is established, it is just as legal and irrevocable as any other valid marriage.

Your common-law marriage lasts until one partner dies or you are granted a divorce. You will have to prove your marriage in the case where your spouse dies before you both lawfully establish a common-law marriage, to be able to inherit, earn insurance benefits, and obtain pension and Social Security Survivor’s benefits.

The most solid evidence partners can show to prove their intention of marriage is a written agreement between them. However, only a judge can confirm whether a common-law marriage exists.

Several factors that the court usually looks into and takes into consideration before determining whether or not you are in a common marriage are the following:

  • If you and your partner live together
  • If either your or your partner uses the other partner’s last name
  • If you and your partner have signed contracts to buy cars and houses
  • If you and your partner filed for joint tax returns
  • If you and your partner refer to each other as husband and wife
  • If you and your partner have joint bank accounts
  • If you and your partner share expenses and household responsibilities
  • If you and your partner have children together and whether or not you raise them together

The courts usually apply the regulations of common-law marriage when a partner dies without having written a will and the other partner claims that they shared a common-law marriage.

For example, this usually happens when a spouse tries to inherit properties under intestate succession laws. In such cases, the court rules following the law that provides a share of the property to the spouse; nonetheless, it may not acknowledge an unmarried partner.

The existence of a common-law marriage is based on several elements. First of all, the state in which both partners live must acknowledge the validity of a common-law marriage legitimately. Suppose you and your partner live in a state that does so.

In that case, the effectiveness and legitimacy of the marriage will depend on how you and your partner view your relationship and how you act accordingly. Thus, an imperative element that helps determine the presence of a common-law marriage is the couple’s intent to do so.

However, the latter is not solely enough; you and your partner must satisfy the state’s jurisdiction concerning marriage. Also, you and your partner must hold yourselves publically as married. In other words, to form the foundation of a common-law marriage, you must prove it through not only your words but also your actions.

Domestic Partnership in Ohio

Domestic partners in ohioThere isn’t an Ohio state law that recognizes domestic partnerships; however, certain local governments will allow two parties to register as domestic partners, including the following: Athens, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Columbus, Dayton, Cuyahoga County, Franklin County, Lakewood, Oberlin, Toledo, and Yellow Springs.

Although each government applies its requirements for registering a domestic partnership, here are the general conditions to keep in mind:

  • Both of the parties are over 18 years old
  • The parties are not related to each other in any way that would prevent a marital union
  • None of the parties is married or has a similar legal connection with anyone else
  • Both parties share a common residence

To further clarify, the state of Ohio does not grant any legal status to couples who are living together. According to cohabitation laws in Ohio, you have to establish a cohabitation agreement with your partner to define your rights and responsibilities as a couple.

Some of the elements of such an agreement include the following:

  • Dividing property
  • Dividing debts and accumulated assets
  • Sharing pets in case of separation
  • House sharing in case of separation

Establishing a cohabitation agreement with your partner is highly important to secure your rights in case of a split. Unfortunately, there are no laws in Ohio that protect unmarried and cohabitating couples.

Thus, a breakup may become stressful, frustrating, and confusing. Like prenuptial agreements before marriage, a cohabitation agreement protects both parties, rights, and properties. Keep in mind that establishing such an agreement requires the help of an experienced counsel or attorney.

What Is Palimony?

Every divorce case includes alimony; however, in live-in relationships, it’s not an option. Instead, there is something called “palimony,” and it’s the division of real property and assets after separation from living together for several years.

Unfortunately, palimony in Ohio is not recognized, and it’s not guaranteed to unmarried couples. The Ohio state considers that living together and being in a romantic relationship is not enough. Therefore, it is essential to establish a cohabitation agreement to preserve all your rights.

Marriage Laws in Ohio

Marriage is a legal and spiritual relationship between two people. When you declare your vows, you enter a legal marriage contract. The contract doesn’t include only you and your spouse but also the state of Ohio because you have to commit to specific responsibilities and obligations under its laws.

– How To Get a Marriage License in Ohio?

The only agency allowed to issue a marriage license in the probate court in 88 counties across Ohio. Both parties must appear in the probate court in person and declare under oath their age, name, place of birth, residence, Social Security number, occupation, mother’s maiden name, father’s maiden name (if applicable), and the person who will solemnize their union (if applicable).

You might also need to provide a birth certificate and an ID photo to prove the facts. If you or your future partner have been married before, you must provide the names of your ex-partners and minor children (if applicable).

If one of you went through a divorce, you must provide the exact date and place of the divorce, as well as the number of divorce cases and a certified copy of the divorce decree. Keep in mind that the probate court in each county will charge a specific fee for the marriage license; thus, make sure to check before applying.

– Marriage and Property Ownership

Marriage does not give a wife or husband an ownership interest in assets that they owned before getting married, nor it creates an obligation for the premarital debts. Assets that you acquire after your marriage may be registered under both of your names or separately.

However, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse has several rights regardless if the deceased spouse had a will or not, including the following:

  • Family allowance.
  • The right to remain in the marital home for at least one year
  • An interest in real property (even if everything was owned and registered under the name of the deceased spouse)

In addition, in case of a divorce, the court will decide how to divide assets between both parties fairly.

– Why Is Record-Keeping Important During Marriage?

There is no better time to start record-keeping than now. This is important since you will never know when a small bill will save your rights during a divorce case. Thus, get yourself a safe box to keep all your valuable documents (i.e., marriage certificates, religious certificates, birth certificates, contracts, deeds, insurance policies, different bills, etc.).

Record keeping will assist in proving premarital ownership of an asset. To clarify, you will have to prove to the court that you owned the asset before marriage, and the evidence is in your record-keeping safe box. The court will need to trace all the evidence from the duration of the marriage to the time of the divorce case.

What Do You Need To Know About Divorce in Ohio?

As you already know, a divorce is a civil lawsuit to end a marriage where parties ask the judge to make a final decision regarding children, spousal support, and property division.

The “plaintiff” is the spouse who files for divorce with a court clerk, and the “defendant” is the one who receives a copy of the divorce claim and a summons. When filing for a divorce, the “plaintiff” must claim and prove the statutory grounds for divorce.

The “defendant” usually receives the divorce complaint through personal delivery or certified mail. In case their exact location is unknown, a legal notice will be published in the newspaper. The “defendant” then has 28 days to respond to the divorce complaint and file an answer. Make sure to seek help from an experienced family attorney to preserve your rights.

In most cases, couples can resolve a divorce case through an agreement where a proposed divorce decree is established. Both parties will have to sign the divorce decree before submitting it to the court. The judge will approve the agreement after a short hearing and make it a court order.

If the parties cannot resolve their divorce issues through an agreement, they must present relevant evidence during a contested trial. The court will then review all the evidence and make a decision based on divorce laws in Ohio.


  • Groom signing a wedding book as common law marriage is not an option in ohioCommon-law marriages are not recognized in Ohio; however, if you decide to move to the state with your spouse, some options can validate your union.
  • There isn’t an Ohio state law that recognizes domestic partnerships; however, certain local governments will allow two parties to register as domestic partners.
  • If you’re not intending on getting married to your spouse, then you must establish a cohabitation agreement to preserve your rights in case of a breakup.
  • Palimony is not recognized in Ohio since the state considers simple long-term relationships are not enough to receive any rights. Thus, it is essential to establish a cohabitation agreement with a skilled lawyer.
  • Ensure to review marriage and divorce laws in Ohio or consult with a family attorney to make the process easier, more understandable, and avoid serious legal issues.
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