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What is the process for recognizing a common-law marriage in Michigan?

Understanding Common-Law Marriage in Michigan

Common-law marriage is a form of non-ceremonial marriage that is recognized by some states in the United States. While not all states acknowledge common-law marriages, it's important for individuals in Michigan to understand the state's stance on this matter, especially when legal rights and obligations that arise from marital relationships come into play.

The Legal Framework in Michigan

Michigan abolished common-law marriage contracts in 1957; however, the state does recognize common-law marriages that were established before this date. This means that for a couple to be legally considered married in Michigan today, they must obtain a marriage license and go through a formal marriage ceremony.

Recognition of Out-of-State Common-Law Marriages

Although Michigan does not allow the formation of new common-law marriages, it does recognize those legally formed in other states where common-law marriage is still permitted. This principle follows the 'Full Faith and Credit Clause' of the U.S. Constitution, which requires states to respect the 'public acts, records, and judicial proceedings' of every other state. For example, if a couple legally enters into a common-law marriage in Colorado (where common-law marriage is recognized) and then moves to Michigan, their marriage would also be considered valid in Michigan.

Criteria for a Valid Common-Law Marriage from Another State

To have an out-of-state common-law marriage recognized in Michigan, the couple must satisfy the criteria set by the jurisdiction where the marriage was established. Typically, these criteria include:

It's important to note that simply living together for an extended period does not automatically result in a common-law marriage, even in states that recognize such unions.

Legal Implications of Recognized Common-Law Marriages

Couples in a recognized common-law marriage are entitled to all the legal rights and responsibilities of a formally married couple. This includes matters related to property division, inheritance rights, and spousal support upon dissolution of the relationship. For instance, if one partner passes away without a will, the surviving partner would have inheritance rights similar to those granted to a spouse in a ceremonial marriage.

Proving Common-Law Marriage

To prove the existence of a common-law marriage from another state for legal proceedings in Michigan, couples may need to provide evidence such as joint bank account statements, insurance policies listing the other partner as beneficiary, joint tax returns, or affidavits from friends and family acknowledging the relationship.


In summary, while Michigan does not allow new common-law marriages to be formed within its borders, it does recognize valid common-law marriages from other states. Understanding this recognition process is crucial for couples seeking to establish their marital rights in Michigan. Should you need further clarification on your specific situation or legal advice regarding marital status recognition, consulting with an experienced family law attorney may be your best course of action.