Find Out: Do You Have a Common Law Marriage in Oregon?

Common law marriage is a concept that many people have heard of but few fully understand. This type of marital union is recognized in some states but not in others, which leads to confusion surrounding the legal rights and protections afforded to couples in these relationships.

For those living in Oregon, questions often arise about whether common law marriages formed in other states will be valid in Oregon, what rights unmarried couples have, and how common law marriage differs from domestic partnership. This guide aims to provide clarity on Oregon’s stance and laws regarding common law and unmarried partnerships.

What is Common Law Marriage?

common law marriage refers to a marriage that comes into existence when a couple lives together and holds themselves out to society as being married, despite never having acquired a marriage license or gone through a formal ceremony.

Sometimes referred to as “marriage by habit and repute,” common law marriage has its origins in old English law and was widely recognized in American colonies and early states. The purpose was to protect the rights of couples in longstanding, marital relationships, even if they lacked formal documentation.

While all states recognized common law marriages historically, today only a minority maintain the legality of this marital union. Requirements differ slightly but typically involve:

  • Cohabitating
  • Mutually agreeing to be married
  • Holding yourselves out publicly as married
  • Meeting certain time thresholds for the relationship

Most states will also require proof and evidence of the purported common law marriage if its validity is challenged.

In contrast to common law marriage, a formal marriage involves obtaining a marriage license, having a ceremony, and registering the marriage with local and state authorities. Formal marriages provide spouses with automatic legal rights and protections.

Does Oregon Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Oregon does not permit the creation of new common law marriages within the state. Oregon Revised Statutes 106.010 specifically requires a marriage license and solemnization for a legal union.

However, Oregon may recognize a common law marriage formed in another state where such marriages are legal. According to the Oregon Family Fairness Act, common law marriages from other states must be treated the same as ceremonial marriages performed in Oregon.

So if a couple lived together and held themselves out as married in a state like Colorado, Oregon courts would likely uphold the validity of the common law marriage. However, the couple would have had to satisfy the requirements that particular state sets for creating a marital union in this manner.

It’s also important to note that while Oregon may respect another state’s granting of common law marriage, such recognition does not extend beyond the death of one of the spouses. After the death of a spouse, Oregon will generally treat the surviving partner as unmarried in the context of inheritance, tax filing, and other matters.

How Does Common Law Marriage Differ from Domestic Partnership?

domestic partnership is another form of legally recognized relationship for unmarried couples. Oregon has permitted domestic partnerships since 2007 under the Oregon Family Fairness Act.

Domestic partnerships are similar to common law marriage in that they offer legal protections to couples who live together but have not formally wed. Key differences include:

  • Registration – Domestic partners must formally register with the state, while common law spouses simply need to meet requirements like cohabitating and presenting themselves as married.
  • Portability – Domestic partnerships are recognized across states that allow them, while common law marriage is only valid in the state it was established.
  • Rights and benefits – The legal rights afforded domestic partners versus common law marriage differ by state. In general, domestic partnerships provide fewer automatic rights and protections nationwide compared to traditional marriage.

Why Does Common Law Marriage Matter in Oregon?

Even though Oregon does not permit creating common law marriages, recognizing them from other states still impacts many couples for several reasons:

  • Legal status – Being in a common law marriage versus an unmarried partnership grants additional legal rights around:
    • Joint ownership of property
    • Medical and end-of-life decision making
    • Inheritance and tax implications in the event of a spouse’s death
  • Financial benefits – Common law spouses may be eligible for benefits like insurance coverage, entitlement programs, debt protections, and tax credits.
  • Emotional significance – Having the relationship clearly defined as a marriage can hold meaning for couples in nontraditional unions.

Understanding whether Oregon views a couple as married under common law is therefore vital for accessing spousal rights.

When is Common Law Marriage Recognized in Oregon?

While Oregon may uphold the validity of a common law marriage formed elsewhere, the couple will need to prove the relationship meets certain conditions. According to ORS 106.150, factors considered include:

  • Length of cohabitation in the state where common law marriage was established
  • Reputation in the community as spouses
  • Filing taxes as a married couple
  • Naming each other as beneficiaries and next of kin
  • Maintaining joint assets or accounts

Absent compelling documented evidence of these elements, Oregon courts are unlikely to recognize the legality of a purported common law marriage.

It’s recommended that couples in this situation retain legal counsel to ensure the ability to demonstrate a common law marriage existed in another jurisdiction with shared domicile prior to relocating to Oregon.

When is Common Law Marriage Recognized in Oregon?

Rights of Unmarried Couples Living in Oregon

For couples who do not have a common law marriage from another state recognized in Oregon, several options exist to secure legal protections:

  • Domestic partnership – Registering as domestic partners grants limited marital rights like disposition of remains and discrimination protection. However, couples must meet eligibility criteria.
  • Cohabitation agreement – Unmarried couples can have a contract drawn up outlining rights around property, assets, debts, and support obligations if the relationship dissolves. These agreements can provide legal recourse otherwise not available.
  • Estate planning – Wills, trusts, beneficiary designations, and other planning tools can help unmarried couples inherit, make medical decisions, and gain related spousal rights. However, these require proactive documentation.

While less automatic than marital rights, these options offer unmarried couples some degree of legal protection and validity in Oregon if relationships meet eligibility criteria. Consulting an attorney to understand rights is advisable.


Common law marriage is a complex issue of which unmarried couples in Oregon need to be aware. While Oregon does not allow creating new common law marriages, it may uphold them from other states. Proving validity requires meeting requirements like cohabitating and presenting publicly as spouses.

For couples in Oregon without common law marriage, registering as domestic partners or drafting cohabitation agreements and estate plans are ways to gain legal rights. Overall, understanding whether Oregon views you as married and what options exist as an unmarried couple is key to accessing benefits and protecting your family.