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Common Law Marriage Wisconsin

Common law marriage, often referred to as “marriage by habit and repute,” is a unique legal concept that has been recognized in some states, including Wisconsin. It allows couples to enjoy the legal benefits and responsibilities of marriage without going through a formal ceremony or obtaining a marriage license. In this article, we will delve into the specifics of common law marriage in Wisconsin, including its requirements, benefits, and challenges.

In this article, we will explore the concept of common law marriage in the state of Wisconsin. Common law marriage is a legal relationship that allows a couple to be recognized as married without a formal ceremony or marriage license. While common law marriages are not as common as they once were, they are still recognized in some states, including Wisconsin. We will discuss the requirements for a common law marriage, the rights and responsibilities it entails, and the reasons why some couples choose this type of union.

Understanding Common Law Marriage

Definition and Origins

Common law marriage is a legal arrangement in which a couple is considered married based on their actions and reputation, rather than a formalized ceremony or license. This concept has its roots in English common law and has evolved over time to adapt to changing societal norms.

Legality in Wisconsin

Common law marriage is recognized in Wisconsin, but it’s important to understand the criteria and conditions that make a common law marriage valid in this state. Let’s explore these requirements in detail.

Requirements for Common Law Marriage in Wisconsin

Mutual Agreement

For a common law marriage to be considered valid in Wisconsin, both parties must have a mutual agreement to enter into the marriage. This means that both individuals intend to be married to each other and hold themselves out as a married couple.

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Cohabitation is a key element of a common law marriage. The couple must live together as if they were married. Simply dating or sharing a residence is not sufficient to establish a common law marriage.

Holding Out as Married

In addition to mutual agreement and cohabitation, the couple must also “hold out” as married. This means they must present themselves to the community, friends, and family as a married couple. They should use each other’s last names, introduce each other as spouses, and generally behave as a married couple.

Rights and Benefits of Common Law Marriage

Inheritance Rights

One of the significant advantages of common law marriage is that it grants inheritance rights to the surviving partner. If one spouse passes away without a will, the surviving partner is entitled to a share of the deceased spouse’s estate.

Property Rights

Common law spouses have property rights similar to those in traditional marriages. In the event of separation or divorce, the couple may need to divide their assets and debts equitably.

Medical Decision-Making

Common law spouses have the legal authority to make medical decisions for each other in the event of illness or incapacity. This can be crucial in times of crisis.

Divorce and Separation

In the eyes of the law, common law marriages are treated similarly to traditional marriages when it comes to divorce or separation. The process involves legal procedures to divide property and determine child custody.

Reasons to Choose Common Law Marriage

Personal Beliefs

Some couples choose common law marriage because of personal or cultural beliefs that make a formal ceremony less appealing or necessary.


For others, common law marriage is a practical choice, especially if they have been living together for a long time and consider themselves committed partners.

Social Recognition

Common law marriage provides a level of social recognition that can be important to some couples. It acknowledges their commitment without a formal wedding.

Challenges and Limitations

Common law marriages, like traditional marriages, come with their challenges and limitations. These may include issues related to property division, inheritance, and the need to prove the existence of the marriage. Understanding these challenges is essential for anyone considering or currently in a common law marriage.

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How to Prove a Common Law Marriage

Proving a common law marriage is crucial for reaping its legal benefits. This typically involves providing evidence of mutual agreement, cohabitation, and holding out as a married couple. Details such as joint bank accounts, shared bills, and testimony from friends and family can be useful in establishing the validity of a common law marriage.

Common Law Marriage vs. Traditional Marriage

Common law marriages and traditional marriages differ in their formation, but they often share many legal rights and responsibilities. Understanding the distinctions between the two types of unions can help couples make informed decisions about their relationships.

Legal Recognition Across States

While common law marriages are recognized in some states, the legal status can change when crossing state lines. It’s important to be aware of the varying laws and regulations related to common law marriage in different states, as they can significantly impact your legal rights.

Common Law Marriage and Estate Planning

Common law marriage can have a significant impact on estate planning. In the absence of a will, the surviving spouse may have rights to the deceased partner’s estate. Understanding the implications for estate planning is essential for protecting the interests of both partners.

Common Law Marriage and Children

If children are involved in a common law marriage, legal considerations related to custody, child support, and parental rights come into play. Understanding how common law marriage affects children and their legal status is vital for the well-being of the entire family.

Cohabitation Agreements

While not a legal requirement, cohabitation agreements can provide clarity on the rights and responsibilities of each partner in a common law marriage. These agreements can help prevent disputes and establish the terms of the relationship, including property division and financial matters.

Dissolution of Common Law Marriages

Dissolving a common law marriage involves legal procedures similar to traditional divorce. Understanding how to navigate this process is essential, as it can affect property division, child custody, and financial matters.

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Debunking Common Myths

Common law marriage is surrounded by various myths and misconceptions. Debunking these myths can help individuals make informed decisions about their relationships and understand the legal aspects of common law marriage more accurately.


Here are the answers to the FAQs

How long is common law marriage in Wisconsin?

Common law marriage in Wisconsin does not have a specific time requirement. Instead, it is based on factors like mutual agreement, cohabitation, and holding out as a married couple. If these conditions are met, the marriage is considered valid.

Is common law marriage legal in Wisconsin?

Yes, common law marriage is legal in Wisconsin, provided that the requirements of mutual agreement, cohabitation, and holding out as married are met.

What is a domestic partner in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, a domestic partner is someone in a legally recognized partnership, often associated with same-sex couples, that grants certain legal rights and responsibilities. It’s important to note that the laws regarding domestic partnerships may have evolved, so it’s best to consult with legal counsel or check the most recent regulations.

What are you entitled to if you’re not married?

If you are not married, your entitlements and legal rights may vary depending on your state’s laws. However, you may not have the same legal rights and benefits as a married couple. Consult with a legal professional to understand your specific rights in your state.

What are my rights as a live-in girlfriend?

Rights as a live-in girlfriend can differ from those of a legally married spouse. In many cases, you may have rights related to property you jointly acquired and certain contract-related rights. However, it is crucial to consult with a legal expert to understand your specific rights in your jurisdiction.

What happens when your partner dies and you’re not married?

If your partner passes away, and you were not legally married, your rights and entitlements may depend on state laws, the presence of a will, and other factors. You may be entitled to inherit assets and property, but the specifics can vary widely. It’s advisable to seek legal guidance to understand your rights and obligations in such circumstances.


Common law marriage in Wisconsin is a unique and valid legal arrangement that allows couples to enjoy the rights and responsibilities of marriage without a formal ceremony or marriage license. While it has its advantages, it also comes with its set of challenges and requirements. Understanding the intricacies of common law marriage is essential for those considering this path. It’s important to remember that laws may vary between states, so seeking legal advice is advisable when entering into a common law marriage.

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