Can You Be Common Law Married in Minnesota? Quick Guide

Common law marriage is a concept that many people have heard of but few fully understand. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings out there about what constitutes a common law marriage, what rights such marriages confer, and whether they are recognized in Minnesota.

The purpose of this guide is to clarify the legal status of common law marriage in Minnesota and provide guidance to unmarried couples on how to protect their relationships under state law. There are many legal considerations and practical steps cohabiting couples should take to secure their rights, even if common law marriage itself is not an option here.

Understanding Common Law Marriage

Definition and Origins

A common law marriage refers to a legal marriage between two consenting adults that was not licensed by the state nor solemnized officially. Rather, it is established simply by the couple living together and holding themselves out to society as married.

Common law marriage originated in medieval England as a way to legitimize unions that were not performed in a church. The concept was eventually adopted in colonies like America and continued in some states into the modern era.

Common Law Marriage Today

Currently, only a minority of U.S. states recognize common law marriage. Most states have enacted laws requiring marriages to be formally registered and licensed in order to be legally valid. However, a few states still allow couples to establish marital rights through cohabitation and reputation alone.

The requirements for a common law marriage differ slightly depending on the state. But in general, couples must prove they have lived together for a significant period of time and held themselves out to the community as married, often by telling others they are husband and wife.

Minnesota’s Stance on Common Law Marriage

Legal Status

Minnesota does not permit common law marriages to be formed within the state. Since 1941, couples have been required to apply for a marriage license and have the marriage solemnized officially in order for it to be legally recognized.

Simply cohabiting together and referring to each other as “husband” or “wife” does not establish a legal marriage in Minnesota, no matter how long the relationship lasts. A valid ceremonial marriage is required.

Historical Context

Early in Minnesota’s history, when record-keeping was sporadic, common law marriages were accepted as legally valid. However, this changed in 1941 when the state established clear statutory guidelines for creating marriages.

This abolished the formation of new common law marriages in Minnesota. The only exception was for common law marriages formed in the state prior to 1941—these were still recognized as valid if proof of cohabitation and reputation could be established.

Recognition of Common Law Marriages from Other States

While Minnesota does not allow common law marriages to originate within its borders, it does provide legal recognition to properly established common law marriages from other states.

Under principles of comity, Minnesota extends legal rights and responsibilities to out-of-state common law marriages as it would any other valid marriage, regardless of whether it was ceremonial or at common law.

Misconceptions and Clarifications

There are some common misconceptions when it comes to unmarried cohabitation and establishing marital rights in Minnesota. Let’s clarify a few key points:

Cohabitation Myths:

  • Living together for a certain length of time does NOT equal common law marriage in Minnesota. No amount of cohabitation alone creates marriage rights and responsibilities.
  • Referring to a partner as “husband”, “wife”, “spouse”, etc. does NOT make you legally married in Minnesota. Certain formal requirements must still be met.
  • Having children together, sharing finances, owning property jointly, etc. does NOT establish common law marriage on its own. More is required.

Legal and Social Misunderstandings:

  • There is a difference between how a relationship is viewed culturally vs. legally. Calling each other “husband” and “wife” socially does not meet the legal threshold to be considered married in Minnesota.
  • Evidence of a wedding ceremony of some form is usually required to prove a common law marriage, not just cohabitation and referring to each other as spouses casually.
  • Immigrating to Minnesota does not suddenly convert a common law marriage from another state into a legally recognized ceremonial marriage here. The former common law marriage remains legally valid, just not any more “married” than before.

Legal Alternatives and Protections in Minnesota

Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions

Minnesota does not provide domestic partnership or civil union options either. These legally recognize relationships similar to marriage. Overall, Minnesota only allows marriage between a man and a woman to be valid under state law.

Protecting Your Relationship

While common law marriage is not available, cohabiting couples in Minnesota can still take steps to protect each other legally:

  • Create a cohabitation agreement outlining property rights, distribution upon separation, etc.
  • Draft wills and advanced healthcare directives naming your unmarried partner.
  • Grant your partner power of attorney for healthcare and/or finances.
  • Review insurance providers, employers, etc. to see if domestic partner benefits are available.

Rights of Unmarried Couples

There are unique legal considerations around rights and property when couples live together but are not formally married.

Property and Asset Management:

  • Joint bank accounts and owning real estate as joint tenants can provide some protections for shared assets and property.
  • Without cohabitation agreements, couples may need to carefully document separate vs shared contributions to joint holdings. Sensitive for dividing assets if the relationship ends.
  • Inheritance rights are not automatic for unmarried partners. Wills, trusts, named beneficiaries on accounts, etc. need to be established.

Separation and Property Division:

  • Breakups don’t go through formal divorce proceedings. Property distribution is based on what is individually vs jointly owned.
  • Without a cohabitation agreement, couples must rely on legal arguments like “implied partnership” or “unjust enrichment” for divided assets. Outcomes can be unpredictable.
  • Temporary spousal support and mediated settlement options are not available outside divorce proceedings.

Children and Custody:

  • Legal rights, custody arrangements, child support, etc. for unmarried parents and their children vary in Minnesota depending on circumstances. Consult a lawyer to understand your status.
  • The biological father is not assumed to have parental rights automatically if unwed. He must establish paternity legally.
  • Custody battles put unmarried parents at a disadvantage without the presumptions around parental rights that marriage provides. Court intervention is likely required.
Legal Alternatives and Protections in Minnesota

Practical Steps for Cohabiting Couples in Minnesota

Legal Documentation

  • Create a cohabitation agreement while in a stable relationship to document shared property, distribution upon separation, etc. This can prevent future disputes. Update as circumstances change.
  • Draft wills and advanced directives like power of attorney to give your partner legal authority over your healthcare, finances, funeral arrangements, etc if you become incapacitated.
  • Review insurance policies, memberships, employer benefits, etc. to see what can be extended to unmarried partners. Leverage “domestic partner” options when possible.

Financial Planning

  • Open joint bank accounts and credit cards to better manage shared expenses and finances together. But maintain some separate accounts as well.
  • Make major joint purchases like a house or car as joint tenants so that ownership defaults to the surviving partner if one should pass away.
  • List each other as beneficiaries on assets like life insurance, retirement accounts, and pensions to ensure inheritance if one partner dies.

Seeking Legal Advice

  • Consult a family law attorney when creating a cohabitation agreement to ensure your rights are protected.
  • Work with an estate planning lawyer when drafting wills, trusts, etc. to ensure shared assets pass to the surviving partner as intended.
  • Understand your parental rights regarding children, custody, and support by speaking with a lawyer familiar with laws for unmarried parents.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I establish a common law marriage in Minnesota simply by living with my partner for many years and telling people we are married?

A: No, common law marriage is not valid in Minnesota and cohabitation alone does not establish legal marriage rights, regardless of reputation. A licensed ceremonial marriage is required.

Q: If I have a common law marriage from Texas, is it still legally recognized now that I live in Minnesota?

A: Yes, Minnesota will recognize a properly established common law marriage from Texas or another state that allows it. Your rights do not change by moving to Minnesota.

Q: Do I have any spousal rights if my long-term partner dies without a will in Minnesota?

A: No, without formal marriage unmarried partners have no automatic inheritance rights in Minnesota. You would need to be named in a will to have a claim on their estate.

Q: What happens if my unmarried partner and I break up after buying a house together in Minnesota?

A: Without a cohabitation agreement, ownership of the house depends on how you hold title. The court may divide jointly owned property equitably if disputes cannot be resolved.

Q: As an unmarried dad in Minnesota, do I automatically have joint custody of my child with the mother?

A: No, unmarried fathers in Minnesota do not have inherent parental rights. You must take legal steps to establish paternity and custody for recognition of rights.


While Minnesota does not recognize common law marriage, unmarried couples still have many options for securing legal protections, rights, and responsibilities within their relationships. By understanding Minnesota laws around marriage and utilizing tools like cohabitation agreements, proper estate planning documentation, and consulting experienced attorneys, cohabiting couples can ensure their relationships and shared assets are protected to the extent available under state law. With the practical guidance and recommendations provided here, unmarried partners can make informed choices navigating life and legal affairs together despite the limitations around common law marriage in Minnesota.