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Does California recognize common law marriage and can I apply for social security benefits?

Long Beach, CA |

I was divorced in 1985 (legally married 9yrs/5mos). Before that there was a common-law marriage from 1966-76; we held ourselves out to be married, I used his surname, purchased a home together and filed joint taxes. I have never remarried and have always been a homemaker. Can I apply for Social Security Spousal benefits? I know that it depends if the State of California recognized common-law (1966-76), but I have been unable to determine this.

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Attorney answers 3


If the information in the Wikipedia article is accurate, CA stopped allowing the formation of a common law marriage within its borders in 1895, long before most currently living people were born. The article is at .

A CA attorney likely can quickly verify the fact for you.

During the period when you two were not statutorily married with each other, did you two ever lived in a state that allowed the formation of a common law marriage?

Look carefully at the dates. The date when a court order is signed is not necessarily the effective date of the order. Your marriage may have legally lasted longer than you think.

You can check with the Social Security Administration ( ) and with an attorney. Perhaps there is something in your facts that gives you a legal basis to benefits.


There is no common law marriage in California. In fact, the California Family Code states that California abolished common law marriage in 1895. As such, the length of your marriage is only 9.5 years. As per information provided by the Social Security Administration, appropriate state law is applied to determine whether a man and a woman are married, so it would appear that from their perspective your marriage is also 9.5 years. My understanding is that spousal benefits with the Social Security Administration don’t kick in until 10 years of marriage. I strongly suggest that you consult with an attorney who specializes in Social Security benefits, however, before simply abandoning your claim; there might be some possibilities of which I am unaware. Good luck!


Unfortunately, Marshall is correct that common law marriage has been banned in California since 1895.

Also, here's some information I obtained from the Social Security Administration's website that may pertain to your situation:

"A person can receive benefits as a divorced spouse on a former spouse’s Social Security record if he or she:
-was married to the former spouse for at least 10 years;
-is at least age 62 years old;
-is unmarried;
-is not entitled to a higher Social Security benefit on his or her own record.
In addition, the former spouse must be entitled to receive his or her own retirement or disability benefit."

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