Understanding Common Law Marriage in Arizona

Cohabitation refers to two unmarried people living together in a long-term, intimate relationship. It differs from marriage in that cohabiting couples do not obtain a marriage license or receive the legal benefits of marital status. Arizona does not recognize common-law marriage, where legal rights are conferred on couples who live together for a certain period of time. This can lead to confusion surrounding the property rights of cohabiting couples when their relationships end. This article will clarify key aspects of Arizona law regarding cohabitation and property division to inform unmarried couples of their rights.

Over 65% of couples in Arizona live together before getting married. While cultural acceptance is growing, stigmas still exist. This article provides factual legal information, not judgment about personal choices. Always seek professional legal advice for your situation, as general knowledge does not cover specific circumstances. The law aims to protect individuals, so understanding your rights is crucial when entering into or ending a cohabiting relationship.

This article will address key questions unmarried couples face:

  • What is a common-law marriage and does Arizona recognize it?
  • Will Arizona uphold common-law marriages from other states?
  • Do community property laws apply to unmarried couples?
  • What happens to property when an unmarried couple separates?
  • Who gets the house if an unmarried couple splits up?

What Is a Common Law Marriage?

common-law marriage refers to a relationship where a couple lives together for a certain period of time and holds themselves out to the community as married, despite never obtaining a marriage license. Only a minority of U.S. states allow common-law marriage.

Arizona is not one of those states. It does not recognize common-law marriage for couples living together here. You must obtain a marriage license for your union to be legally valid. Simply living together, no matter how long, does not create a common-law marriage in Arizona.

Some think being together 7-10 years establishes a common-law marriage. This is untrue. No period of cohabitation constitutes a legal marriage in Arizona without formal documentation. Despite misconceptions, only a licensed marriage creates spousal rights and obligations here.

While not receiving legal recognition, cohabiting carries emotional weight. Discuss expectations openly to avoid misunderstandings. Don’t rely on assumptions about how “serious” the relationship is. Explicit communication is key.

Will Arizona Uphold Common Law Marriages from Other States?

Some states do permit common-law marriage. So what happens when an unmarried couple living here was legally married in a different state?

The legal principle of “comity” means states generally recognize contracts, records, and court rulings from other states. However, Arizona only upholds common-law marriages from other states under certain conditions due to our laws.

For example, if a couple had a valid common-law marriage in Texas before moving to Arizona, courts here may recognize that marriage. But if the couple moved to Arizona before meeting the requirements for common-law marriage in Texas, Arizona will likely not validate the marriage.

The details matter greatly. Consult a lawyer if you have a common-law marriage from another state to understand how Arizona courts view your circumstances. Do not assume our state will automatically honor it. Protections may be lost by moving here if the marriage is not formally documented.

Do Community Property Laws Apply to Unmarried Couples in Arizona?

In Arizona, all assets and debts acquired during a marriage are considered “community property” equally belonging to both spouses. But what about assets unmarried couples acquire while living together?

Arizona’s community property laws only apply to married couples. Unmarried couples do not have the same legal rights over shared assets and debts. By default, cohabiting couples own property under “tenancy in common” rules instead.

Tenancy in common means each person has an equal interest in assets titled under their joint names. But property titled to just one partner is considered separate property belonging solely to that individual. Without documentation stating otherwise, property acquired before or during cohabitation is not jointly owned.

Unmarried couples can draft contracts like cohabitation agreements outlining financial rights and obligations. This protects individual property interests upon separation. Consulting a lawyer helps properly document such agreements.

Do Community Property Laws Apply to Unmarried Couples in Arizona?

Does Community Property Apply if a Couple Had a Common Law Marriage Elsewhere and Moved to Arizona?

Situations involving out-of-state common law marriages can impact property division when those couples relocate to Arizona.

Courts weigh many factors to determine if community property treatment applies in these cases, making outcomes very case-specific:

  • State where the common-law marriage occurred
  • If the couple meant to maintain that marital status upon moving
  • How long the couple cohabited in Arizona before separating
  • Evidence showing intent and understanding of their relationship

With no hard-and-fast rules, unmarried couples previously having a common-law marriage face uncertainty in Arizona. Consult an attorney for guidance on your rights and how to navigate property division. Proper documentation is essential to protect your assets and establish intentions.

John and Anne lived together for 15 years in Kansas, a state recognizing common-law marriage, before moving to Arizona last year. They separated recently, now unsure how to divide their property under our state’s laws. Their situation highlights the complexities cohabiting couples face. Seeking expert advice is critical to protect your rights during separation.

Who Gets the House if an Unmarried Couple Breaks Up?

When unmarried couples split up, the documented owner retains rights to the house and other individually-titled property.

For instance, if Anne’s name is on the home’s deed and mortgage, she has sole legal claim even if John paid some costs informally. Without written agreement stating John’s rights, the house belongs fully to Anne as the titled owner if they separate.

Jointly-titled property is divided equally unless otherwise agreed in writing. Had Anne and John’s home been jointly deeded, Arizona law presumes each has 50% ownership when cohabiting ends.

Formal written contracts– like cohabitation, property ownership, and joint financial agreements – are strongly advised when sharing assets while unmarried. Consult a lawyer to document agreements protecting both partners’ interests in the relationship and when it ends. Relying on verbal promises can cause legal problems.


Cohabiting couples in Arizona do not receive community property rights without formal marriage. While cultural acceptance is rising, legal treatment remains distinct from marital relationships. Presumptions about “common-law marriage” do not reflect Arizona statutes.

Unmarried couples must take steps to document shared property interests through written contractual agreements. These help avoid uncertainty and disputes when separating. Seeking advice from family law attorneys well-versed in our state’s laws is highly recommended to understand options to protect each person’s rights and intentions.

Being informed about Arizona’s laws can help cohabiting couples navigate endings with clarity. This knowledge guides people considering or exiting these relationships to make fully-aware choices. Share your experiences or questions below and subscribe for updates as laws evolve. Knowledge is power – arm yourself!