If you’ve lived in Montana with your significant other, you may be entitled to the same protections of the law as a married couple — even if you’ve never had a marriage ceremony or marriage license. This is called a common law marriage.
Montana is one of a handful of states to recognize common law marriage. Common law marriage may exist when a couple lives together like a married couple, but have never actually been legally married. Unfortunately, common law marriage laws in Montana are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. The family law experts at the Judnich Law Office are here to answer your most common questions about common law marriage.
How do I know if I’m in a “common law marriage?”
For a common law marriage to be recognized in Montana, 3 conditions must be met. The couple must:
- Be competent to enter into a marriage. Neither can already be married and both must have the mental capacity to marry.
- Have entered into the relationship consensually. Both people have consented to the relationship and both intended it to be a marriage.
- Live together and act as a married couple acts. This can include things like owning property together, filling out forms together as though they’re married, exchanging rings or other symbols of promise, and/or behaving like a married couple when in public.
Don’t we have to live together for 7 years or something?
No. This is definitely the #1 common law marriage myth in Montana.
There isn’t a certain amount of time you have to live together to be considered common law spouses in Montana. When evaluating your relationship, the court will look at the factors already discussed to determine whether you and your significant other are common law spouses.
In other words, every case can be a little different.
What’s the difference between traditional marriage and a common law marriage?
Common law marriages are no less valid than marriages entered into by ceremony. Legally, they are treated as equal to any marriage.
If you choose to break up with a common law spouse, it is a legal Divorce. When common law marriages in Montana end, the spouses are entitled to an equitable division of property and a determination of whether spousal maintenance (alimony) is appropriate.
These are cases that can absolutely be taken to court and validated. Making the wrong decisions can be catastrophic legally and financially.
Does a common law marriage have to end in divorce — or should we just break up?
While just “breaking up” might sound like a good solution, that won’t always protect your rights. If you owned property together, like a house or car, then you may want to ensure that neither of you is getting less than your fair share when the relationship ends. Also, if there was a large earning difference between you and your spouse, or if you did more around the home, then you may be entitled to maintenance payments, at least temporarily.
If you’ve been in a common law marriage, it may be in your best interest to look at your divorce options instead of simply walking away at the end of the relationship.
There is no “common law divorce;” there is only divorce, a proceeding which exists to find an equitable division of property and to maintain each spouse’s rights. Of course, a divorce proceeding can be stressful. But working with a dedicated attorney on your side can take some of that pressure off.
How are custody disputes settled in common law marriages?
Custody issues are always decided in the best interest of the child. This is true for married parents as well as unmarried parents. Whether you’re divorcing your child’s other parent or not, a court can help to resolve custody issues fairly. And an attorney advocating on your behalf can help to ensure that your relationship with your child is preserved.
If you think you might be in a common law marriage, and want to find out more or your relationship may be ending, contact the Judnich Law Office today.
We’ll help you to find out how the law might protect you and your rights.
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.