Is Common Law Marriage Real in Missouri? Find Out Today

Common law marriage refers to a legal marriage between two people that was not officially recorded through a license and ceremony but instead meets certain requirements that establish a marriage union. Laws related to recognizing common law marriages vary by state, with some still allowing new common law marriages to be established while others ended the practice long ago. This article will focus specifically on the history, status, and implications of common law marriage in Missouri.

What Is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is a term for a marital union that comes from ancient English law traditions instead of being formally recorded with government authorities.

Rather than filing paperwork and having a wedding, a common law marriage is formed when a couple agrees to be married and presents themselves publicly as a married couple. They must demonstrate intent and consent to be married through their words and actions over time.

Many states in the U.S. recognized common law marriages well into the 19th and 20th centuries. However, today only a handful of states still permit new common law marriages to be established.

Common Law Marriage in Missouri

Missouri ended recognition of new common law marriages in 1921. Any couples in the state who established a valid common law marriage prior 1921 are still considered legally married. However, no new common law marriages can be formed under Missouri law.

Here is a brief timeline showing the status change:

  • Before 1921: Common law marriages permitted in Missouri. New common law marriages could be established by meeting requirements.
  • 1921: Missouri enacts laws to prohibit any new common law marriages from being formed.
  • Today: Common law marriages from BEFORE 1921 are valid, but no new common law marriages are legal in Missouri.

The only exception is if a common law marriage was validly formed in another state that still allows it, and the couple later moves to Missouri. Their original out of state common law marriage will still be recognized in Missouri under the longstanding legal principle of comity.

Common Myths vs. Facts on Common Law Marriage in Missouri

There are many misconceptions and rumors about common law marriage in Missouri. Here are some of the major myths along with the accurate facts:

Myth: If an unmarried couple lives together for 7 years, they automatically gain common law marriage rights in Missouri.

Fact: No time period of cohabitation establishes any marital rights in Missouri.

Myth: If an unmarried couple has children together, they become common law spouses in Missouri after the kids are born.

Fact: Having children together does not create a marriage between unmarried parents in Missouri.

Myth: General reputation in the community can validate a common law marriage in Missouri.

Fact: Public opinion does not determine marital status under Missouri law.

Myth: Referring to a partner as “husband” or “wife” means you are common law married in Missouri.

Fact: Using marital terms is not sufficient to create a legal marriage.

Myth: An unmarried couple gets marital rights in Missouri if they share property like a house or bank accounts.

Fact: Joint property ownership does not establish common law marriage on its own in Missouri.

Myth: If an unmarried couple splits up after long cohabitation, they need to get divorced in Missouri.

Fact: With no valid marriage, no divorce is required for an unmarried couple to separate in Missouri.

Legal Implications of Non-Recognition in Missouri

Because new common law marriages cannot be formed in Missouri, unmarried couples do not have the same legal protections and benefits as married spouses unless they take active steps to secure them.

This can significantly impact property division, inheritance rights, medical decisions, and more when relationships end. Without marital status, each person maintains separate control over all their assets and life choices.

Some major areas impacted by the lack of common law marriage recognition include:

  • Property rights: Assets stay separate unless placed jointly in both names.
  • Inheritance: A partner has no automatic claim to inheritance under Missouri intestacy laws.
  • Medical decisions: An unmarried partner cannot make decisions if their partner is incapacitated.
  • Child custody: Custody and support follows typical guidelines based on biology, not marital status.
  • Debts: Each partner is only responsible for debts in their own name.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in Missouri

Even though common law marriage is not recognized, unmarried couples still have options to help protect shared assets and express their commitment in Missouri.

Some steps unmarried couples can consider include:

  • Entering a domestic partnership agreement outlining property rights
  • Granting your partner power of attorney for healthcare and finances
  • Writing a cohabitation agreement to outline division of shared property if you separate
  • Creating wills and trusts to provide for your partner
  • Using joint bank accounts and property titles with rights of survivorship
  • Formally registering as domestic partners if your city provides it
  • Following any employer policies to enroll an unmarried partner in benefits

Unmarried couples in Missouri should seek legal advice to ensure they take proactive steps to protect their rights. Laws continue to evolve regarding rights for unmarried couples, so getting individualized guidance is key.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in Missouri

Recognition of Common Law Marriages from Other States

If a couple validly establishes a common law marriage in one of the few states that still allow it, Missouri will recognize their marital status under the legal principle of comity.

This falls under the Full Faith and Credit Clause from Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, which requires each state to respect public acts and records from every other state. So while Missouri prohibits new in-state common law marriages, the state must uphold those legally formed out-of-state.


While Missouri does still honor common law marriages formed in the state prior to 1921, today it does not allow legal formation of any new common law marriages. Couples cannot gain marital rights after years of cohabitation there.

Unmarried partners in Missouri do not receive the same treatment as married spouses under state law. Taking proactive legal steps as an unmarried couple is crucial to protect your rights regarding property, healthcare directives, inheritance and more. Unmarried couples should consider formal agreements and consult family law attorneys to understand their options.