An explanation of common law marriage in the state of Massachusetts

It is becoming increasingly common for couples, both same sex and heterosexual, to live together instead of formally marrying. Oftentimes, these couples act like a married couple, naming each other as beneficiaries on bank and investment accounts, sharing joint bank accounts, buying property together and sharing living expenses. Many raise children together, too, and in some cases, as with blended families, there are also stepchildren. Breaking up in these relationships can sometimes be more complicated than a legal divorce, particularly when these relationships are long term. Many people mistakenly believe that if they are with their partner for 7 years or longer, they have a common law marriage, meaning that the law considers them as being married even though they did not obtain a marriage license and have a formal marriage ceremony.[1]

Massachusetts does not recognize marriage by common law, except that if two individuals were considered married by the common law of another state, and if they then moved to Massachusetts, Massachusetts would have to recognize them as being married, and they would have to obtain a legal divorce and their property is subject to division. Since Massachusetts does not recognize common law marriage, no matter how long you live together or how you hold yourselves out to others, you are not married and you do not receive the marital rights or protections afforded by our state court system. This means you cannot get spousal support or claim an automatic right in property of the other.

[1] In those states that do recognize common law marriage, there are typically 3 elements that determine if a common law marriage exists: 1) the couple agrees they are married 2) they live together and 3) they hold themselves out to others as married.