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Common-Law Marriage in IL

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“Common law marriage” is a term many people have heard, but few actually know what it entails. Clients often wonder how common-law marriages occur, whether common law marriage is something that can come about unintentionally, and if it has the same legal effect as a traditional marriage. Continue reading to learn about common law marriage in Illinois. Call a knowledgeable Chicago family law attorney with any questions or for help with an Illinois family law matter.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is a marriage that comes about because of the behavior of a couple and the longevity of their relationship, even if the couple has not actually had a legal marriage ceremony or signed a marriage license. In some states, if a couple presents themselves as married to the public, lives together, and stays together for a sufficient period of time, they can secure some or all of the benefits and obligations of a legal marriage. Rights include being able to secure property rights in a divorce, eligibility for alimony, inheritance, and others.

Is Common Law Marriage Allowed in Illinois?

The short answer is: No. Common-law marriage is not recognized in Illinois. In order to obtain the privileges and obligations of a legal marriage in Illinois, a couple must go through the appropriate legal processes and sign a valid marriage license.

Unmarried couples, even if they have been living together for some time, have no marriage-like legal rights by default. They have no right to each other’s property, for example, even if they have lived together for 20 years. If the couple shares any children, however, child custody and child support rights and obligations exist regardless of marital status. Moreover, the couple may be bound by contractual rights and obligations–for example, if the couple enters into a “cohabitation agreement” governing the couple’s assets and finances.

Illinois Will Recognize Common Law Marriages From Another State

A couple who has obtained a common law marriage in another state will have their marriage recognized in Illinois. Even if the couple would not have been legally married had their relationship taken place entirely within Illinois borders, Illinois gives “full faith and credit” to marriages recognized in other states. The couple will have the same rights and responsibilities as any other married couple, so long as their common law marriage was legitimate in the state from which they moved.

In order to obtain legal status as a married couple and, for example, go through a legal divorce proceeding, the couple must establish the following:

  • Common-law marriage was legally recognized in the couple’s former state
  • The couple met the requirements for a common-law marriage in that state
  • The couple did not already divorce in the other state

If all three conditions are met, then the couple’s marriage will be recognized in Illinois.


If you are dealing with divorce, child custody, spousal support, or any other family law issue in Illinois, contact the experienced and effective Carol Stream family law attorneys at Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker & Newitt for a consultation on your case at 630-665-9600.

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