Common Law Marriage-Not so Common

A couple had a religious ceremony attended by all of their friends and family, lived together for many years, had children together, had joint finances, bought a house, and all of their friends think they are married. Now they want to go their separate ways. Do they get a divorce?

This situation is an example of what many states consider common law marriage, entitling the couple to a divorce. Not New York. The couple in our example will not be getting a divorce. Instead, they will have to go through a more complicated and uncertain process. And it will have to be done in two separate courts – property issues will be decided in the Supreme Court, and issues involving children will have to be resolved in family court.

Legally, the parties will be treated like 2 business partners that are splitting up. The most significant difference between dissolving this type of a relationship and a marriage is that none of the spouses will be entitled to alimony (since there is no “palimony” in New York).

It should also be noted that the situation remains the same if this were a same-sex couple, who could not have gotten married in the first place.

To sum up, there is no common law marriage in New York, a situation which presents some difficulty to couples that are trying to settle their affairs after they go their separate ways.


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Albert Gurevich, Esq.