Understanding Arkansas Common Law Marriage: A Simple Guide

Arkansas stands out for its distinctive approach to common law marriage, a concept that often leads to confusion and intrigue. This article aims to demystify common law marriage in Arkansas, providing a clear, authoritative exploration of its legal landscape. We delve into the specifics of how Arkansas recognizes these unions, the implications for couples, and the practical effects on rights and responsibilities.

Drawing from legal expertise, this piece offers an in-depth look at the historical context, current statutes, and real-life ramifications of common law marriages in Arkansas. It’s not just about legal definitions; we also consider the social significance of these relationships and the challenges they face in the eyes of the law.

Ideal for individuals navigating their own relationship status, legal professionals seeking clarity, or anyone interested in the nuances of family law, this article serves as an essential guide. Embark on a journey with us to understand the unique position of common law marriage in Arkansas, and uncover the critical information that affects couples living under this arrangement.

Introduction to Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage refers to a legal marriage between two people that was not obtained through a marriage license or ceremony. It is established through the couple’s actions and commitment to one another. Common law marriage is legal in some states, while others do not recognize it. The requirements and rights of common law spouses vary by state.

Arkansas is one state that does not allow common law marriages to be formed within its borders. However, it will recognize common law marriages that were legally formed in other states. This can lead to some confusion surrounding the rights and responsibilities of Arkansan common law couples.

Arkansas Does Not Allow Common Law Marriages

Arkansas law explicitly states that common law marriages cannot be legally formed within the state. This means couples who consider themselves married but have not obtained a marriage license or had a ceremony are not viewed as legally wed under Arkansas statutes.

Some key points regarding Arkansas and common law marriage:

  • Common law marriage has been prohibited in Arkansas since 1945 when the statute was enacted. This law remains in effect today.
  • Couples who live together and refer to each other as “husband” and “wife” have no spousal rights in Arkansas if they do not have a marriage license.
  • Property, assets, and debts are treated as belonging to individuals rather than a married couple in the absence of a legal marriage.
  • Arkansas does recognize most common law marriages established in other states that allow them. But the marriage must have originated in a state where common law marriages are legal.

So while Arkansas does not permit common law marriages to be created within its own state lines, it will generally acknowledge properly formed common law unions from elsewhere.

Legal Implications in Arkansas

Because Arkansas does not allow common law marriage, couples in these types of unions face impaired spousal rights. Some key legal implications include:

  • No spousal inheritance rights: Without a legal marriage, the surviving partner has no right to inherit if their spouse dies without a will. They would not be considered next of kin.
  • No ability to file joint tax returns: Common law couples in Arkansas must file individual returns rather than jointly. They do not qualify for tax benefits afforded to married filers.
  • Limited insurance coverage: Partners are not eligible for spousal insurance coverage including health plans and benefits. Exceptions may exist if the employer policy allows domestic partner coverage.
  • No spousal privilege: Common law partners can be compelled to testify against one another in court. Married couples can claim spousal privilege to avoid testifying.
  • Separate property: Common law couples do not have rights to marital property division in the event of separation. There is no community property.
  • No spousal support: Common law partners have no right to alimony or spousal support if the relationship ends.
  • Custody concerns: Child custody and support issues for couples with kids must go through the court. Custody is not assumed for both parents.

These limitations demonstrate the impaired rights of common law couples in Arkansas. Formal marriage provides important legal protections and benefits.

Proving a Common Law Marriage in Arkansas

For couples relocating from a state that permits common law marriage, Arkansas law requires proof that the marriage is valid. Meeting the burden of proof is key to having the marriage recognized.

Some evidence Arkansas may require:

  • Tax returns: Jointly filed returns can help prove a couple holds themselves out as married.
  • Joint financial accounts: Shared bank accounts, investments, and debts point to financial interdependence typical of marriage.
  • Shared residence: evidence of long-term cohabitation.
  • Joint purchases: Major purchases like property, vehicles, and insurance naming both partners.
  • Testimony: Sworn statements from friends, family, coworkers, etc. verifying a marriage-like relationship.
  • Reputation: Evidence the couple is known in their community as being married.
  • Kids: Having children together, especially with both parents listed on the birth certificate.
  • Name change: If one partner took the other’s last name informally.
  • Exchange of rings: Giving rings to each other.

The more evidence provided, the stronger the case for an existing common law marriage. Couples should be prepared to prove all the normal requisites of marriage if contested.

Proving a Common Law Marriage in Arkansas

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in Arkansas

Since common law marriage confers no rights in Arkansas, couples have turned to other options to establish spousal protections. A cohabitation agreement is one alternative similar to prenuptial agreements.

A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract between unmarried partners spelling out their financial obligations, property rights, and other expectations. Key elements may include:

  • Asset division: How property and belongings will be divided if the relationship ends.
  • Spousal support: Whether one partner will provide financial support to the other during or after the relationship.
  • Debts: Responsibility for debts individually and jointly held.
  • Executorship: Granting a partner power to make medical/financial decisions if incapacitated.
  • Inheritance: Passage of assets to the surviving partner if one partner dies.
  • Custody: Child custody and support terms if applicable.
  • Home ownership: Provisions for jointly owned housing.

Cohabitation agreements carry weight like prenups when properly executed. Couples should have lawyers review them. While not identical to common law marriage, they can provide some protections.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can a couple in a common law marriage file joint taxes in Arkansas?

A: No, only legally married couples can file joint tax returns in Arkansas. Common law couples must file individually.

Q: If a common law couple separates in Arkansas, how are assets divided?

A: With no legal marriage, there are no community property rights. Assets remain separate unless a cohabitation agreement stated otherwise.

Q: Does Arkansas recognize all common law marriages from other states?

A: Arkansas recognizes most, but not all, properly established common law marriages from states where they are legal. Specific details may impact recognition.

Q: Can a person in a common law marriage access their partner’s health insurance in Arkansas?

A: No, employers are not required to extend health insurance to common law spouses unless their policies specifically allow it.

Q: What happens if one spouse in a common law marriage dies without a will in Arkansas?

A: With no legal marriage, the surviving spouse inherits nothing automatically. Assets pass to blood relatives under intestate succession laws.


In summary, Arkansas prohibits the creation of new common law marriages within its borders but generally accepts those legally formed elsewhere. Common law couples in Arkansas face impaired rights on par with two single individuals cohabitating. While not a substitute for marriage, cohabitation agreements can provide some protections. However, only formal legal marriage confers full spousal rights and obligations in The Natural State.