Common-Law Marriage In New York
Many persons believe that they are involved in a common-law marriage if they live together in the same manner as a husband and wife and are in a committed, long-term relationship. But New York law has not recognized common-law marriage in a very long time.
What Is Common-Law Marriage?Common law marriage is a rather ancient creation that deems a couple who hold themselves out as husband and wife to actually be married. Common-law marriage is recognized in 10 states in the United States, but New York is not among those states.
Does New York Ever Recognize Common-Law MarriageHere in New York, there are only two types of common-law marriages that are recognized: (1) Those that began in 1938 or earlier. That is not going to include very many situations, because the couple would have to be together for at least 78 years; and, (2) Those that were created in other states, so long as that other state's laws have been satisfied.
Inheritance in Common-Law SituationsSince New York does not recognize in-state common-law marriages unless they were created 78 or more years ago, persons who consider themselves married but who are not actually married under the laws of New York will be deprived, under certain circumstances, from inheriting property from their so-called spouse. In New York, a person is free to dispose of property by will to anyone. Thus, if two persons live together without being formally married, each is free to write a will that leaves property to the other. But when a person passes away without a will (that is called dying "intestate"), New York State law controls what will happen to that person's property. It will not be inherited by a so-called "common-law" husband or wife.
Advice to "Common-Law" CouplesIf you live in New York and you hold yourself out as a married couple but are not actually formally married, you should do one of three things: (1) Actually get married; (2) Write a will that bequeaths assets to your "common-law" spouse; or (3) Make sure all assets are in joint name or in an account with a designated beneficiary. Otherwise, the person you deem to be your husband or wife may be prevented from inheriting from your estate.