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Montana Common Law Marriage

What is a Common-law Marriage?

A common-law marriage is one in which two people who live together in Montana describe themselves as married without securing a marriage license or conducting a marriage ceremony. Several states across the U.S recognize this type of civil union, including Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island.

Why Choose a Common-Law Marriage?

Couples choose common-law marriages for multiple reasons. Partners in a common-law relationship get to enjoy many of the benefits offered in a traditional marriage, such as:

  • Hospital visitation rights
  • Inheritance right in the event of a partner’s death
  • Access to a partner’s birth records
  • Prison or jail visitation rights
  • The right to split shared property in the event of a divorce or marriage dissolution
  • The right to spousal support in the vent of a split.

The benefits notwithstanding, couples in a common-law marriage may experience a few disadvantages, the most common of which is the challenge of credibility. Common-law marriages can sometimes be tough to prove in the event of a partner’s demise and the absence of a sworn statement attesting to the relationship’s creation

Does Montana Recognize common-law Marriage?

Montana recognizes and permits the creation of common-law marriages. Couples can enter into a civil union without a marriage license or ceremony as long as they meet the state’s three legal requirements, namely:

  • Both parties must be willing to get married. This means each spouse has to express their intent to marry the other party.
  • Both parties must show that they live together and hold themselves out as married to the community.
  • Both parties must be able to marry (or competent to enter the marriage). Essentially, people in the relationship must be single, unrelated, and old enough to enter into a union legally.

Montana only recognizes a common-law marriage when a couple meets all the legal requirements. For instance, if a couple declares their intent to get married while still living in separate homes, the union isn’t recognized as a common-law marriage. Similarly, if a couple who lives together agrees to get married but then opts to hide their relationship status from the world, state laws may not recognize the union.

How many years do you have to Live Together for common-law Marriage in Montana?

Montana state law does not specify exactly how long a couple has to live together for common-law marriage. It only states that spouses must confirm their marriage by cohabitation and public repute. That said, a common-law marriage is generally easier to prove with couples who have lived together for a significant period of time (more than five years) than marriages where the couple only lived together for a few weeks or months.

What Does it Mean to be Legally Free to Marry in Montana?

Being “Legally free to Marry” refers to the competency of the individuals who wish to enter into the marriage. In order to be competent enough to marry, both parties must not be related to each other. They must also be single and old enough to marry. Couples must also have the right mental capacity to enter into a relationship.

What is Intent to Marry in Montana?

Intent to marry in Montana refers to the willingness to enter into a relationship. As part of the requirement for common-law marriage, Montana state law stipulates that both parties in the relationship must vocalize their desire to be married as husband and wife. This is to ensure that the couple is in clear, conscious agreement of their decision.

What is an Informal Marriage in Montana?

An “informal marriage” is the official term used to describe common-law marriages created in the state of Texas. It may also be used as an unofficial term to describe common-law marriages created in other states where this type of union is legal.

How Do You Prove common-law Marriage in Montana?

One of the ways of establishing the existence and legitimacy of a common-law marriage is by completing an affidavit of common-law marriage. A completed, signed, and notarized affidavit form can be used to show proof of marriage in different situations, such as when sharing property during a divorce, resolving matters during probate court, or applying for social security. Couples may also opt to file a marriage declaration without necessarily seeking the solemnization of the district court. In the absence of either document, partners in a relationship may still be able to prove a common-law marriage by providing documentation that supports their claim of cohabitation or marriage. Some of these include:

  • Joint credit account, bank accounts, and tax returns
  • Proof of loans, mortgages, and housing agreements co-signed by both parties
  • Birth certificate listing both spouses as parents
  • Documents where both partners share the same surname
  • Insurance policies listing one partner as the other’s spouse
  • Documents that show the spouses share the same address
  • An affidavit from a friend, family member, or close relative attesting to the relationship
  • Any witness statement that confirms that both persons publicly introduced themselves as spouses or that one party referred to the other as a wife or a husband

Third-party websites provide an alternative to obtaining public vital records. These non-governmental platforms come with intuitive search tools that help simplify the process of accessing single or multiple records. However, record availability on third-party sites tends to vary because they’re independent of government sources. To obtain public marriage records, requesters may need to provide:

  • The full name of both spouses ((include first, middle, and last names)
  • The date the marriage occurred (month, date and year)
  • The location where the marriage occurred (city and county)

How Do You Prove common-law Marriage in Montana After Death?

In the event of one party's death, a widowed partner may prove the marriage existed by providing signed marriage declarations, an affidavit of marriage, or any other documents that establish both parties lived together as a couple before the death. In some cases, the courts may also consider statements from persons close to the couple who confirm that the union existed and that the married couple lived as husband and wife.

Do common-law Marriages Require a Divorce?

Dissolving a common-law marriage will require a divorce. Once established - common-law marriages in Montana are considered the same as a real marriage with all the associated rights. This means that any couple who wishes to split after entering into a common-law union will need to formally request a marriage dissolution from the court. Common-law couples will also be expected to follow Montana’s procedure for divorce in related issues such as spousal support, child custody, and property or asset division.

Does A Common-Law Wife Have Rights in Montana?

Montana’s civil laws recognize the validity of common-law marriages contracted within the state. Couples who enter into a Montana common-law marriage get to enjoy all the rights and responsibilities of a traditional wife, such as property division in the event of a separation, social security, and visitation rights.

Can a common-law Wife Collect Social Security in Montana?

Partners in a legally recognized common-law marriage may apply and collect social security in Montana. In other to do this, couples will need to ensure that they meet and satisfy all the common-law requirements for the state, namely:

  • Both parties must express their mutual willingness and agreement to enter into a marriage.
  • Both parties must confirm their marriage by public repute and cohabitation
  • Both parties must be old and competent enough to enter into a marriage

common-law couples may also be required to provide evidence such as a statement from a blood relationship recognizing the marriage and a Statement of Marital Relationship Form. Married couples will also need to indicate:

  • The length of time and places the couple has lived together If they have children
  • The date they started living together as a couple
  • The city/town and state where the marriage took place
  • Their previous names (if changed)
  • A list of people (neighbors, family members, or coworkers) who are aware of the union

Are common-law Wives Entitled To Half During a Divorce In Montana?

Montana’s status as an equitable distribution state means that common-law wives are entitled to an equitable or fair split in the event of a divorce. Some common-law wives may get half, others may be entitled to more than half, and some wives may receive less than half. The court decides the exact percentage of what a partner receives during the divorce process. Couples who wish to avoid the court’s decision can do so by reaching a compromise and having it detailed out in a separation agreement. A separation agreement may outline an even 50-50 split or more.

Does the Federal Government Recognize Montana common-law Marriages?

The U.S government only recognizes common-law unions that are created in states where this type of union is legal. In 2021, the list of states that recognize common-law marriages included Kansas, Rhode Island, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Montana, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Common-law marriage unions may also be considered valid in Ohio, Alabama, Idaho, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Unions established in these states may be used for federal income tax purposes and immigration purposes.