Common Law Marriage in Iowa
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
Under Iowa law, there are 2 ways for two people* to be legally married. (See information in bold at the end of this resource.)
- Apply for a marriage license, have a ceremony with a magistrate, judge, or clergy
- Marriage by common law
To have a marriage by common law, these 3 things must be true:
- Both spouses have an agreement that they are married,
- Both spouses live together continuously as partners, and
- Both spouses publicly act like a married couple.
An agreement that they are married means:
- Both spouses must want to be married to each other, and
- Both spouses must agree that they are married.
These are not an agreement that they are married:
- Talking about getting married at a later date,
- One is or both are unsure whether they want to be married.
- The agreement does not have to be in writing.
- No spoken agreement is required - just that they are married if they live together like spouses and act like a married couple.
Living together continuously means:
- Live together as spouses, which generally means they have a sexual relationship with each other.
- No certain amount of time that spouses must live with each other.
- Must live together constantly for some period of time, not just sometimes or on weekends.
Publically acting like a married couple means:
- Couple must act married,
- Couple must hold themselves out as married or say that they are married.
- Examples of acting like a married couple are:
- Using same last name
- Wear wedding bands
- Using "husband" or "wife" to describe the spouse in public
- Using the terms "Mr. and Mrs." to describe the couple
- Failing to correct others that call them a married couple
- Sharing joint bank accounts
- Sharing joint credit cards
- Filing joint tax returns (which can only be done if the couple is married)
- Anything else that would make others believe the couple is married
- If you don't know if you have a common law marriage, but you don't want to be married, the court can decide whether there is a common law marriage.
- If there is a common law marriage and the couple does not want to be married, they will have to file for divorce.
- There is no common law divorce. If you have a common law marriage, to end it you must get a divorce.
* It is not certain whether same-sex couples can be considered married under Iowa common law. In April of 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court decided that same-sex couples could be married in a civil ceremony. It is unlikely that same-sex couples could use evidence from before April 2009 to show that they have a common law marriage. Since this issue is so new, the court has not yet decided if evidence after April 2009 can be used to show whether a same-sex couple has a common law marriage.