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  • Writer's pictureTom Fowler

Common Law Marriage in Iowa

Common law marriage existed in the early 17th century. It originated in England before becoming a popular lifestyle choice in North America. In a way, common law marriage exists for those who choose to have the same rights as a married couple minus the certificate. There are, of course, additional factors that may motivate a couple to choose the path of common law rather than husband-wife.

What Does it Mean to Be Common Law?

What Does it Mean to Be Common Law?

Taking on the title of common law marriage means that two individuals are in a long-term committed relationship. However, they have not applied or sought out traditional marriage's formalities. This includes but is not limited to a formal ceremony and applying for a marriage certificate which is a document that helps establish and prove a couple is married.

How Long Do You Have to Be Together for Common Law Marriage in Iowa?

From the moment a husband and wife are married, the marriage license or certificate proves their union as a married couple. If a couple chooses not to apply or seek out a marriage license, they can claim a common-law marriage.

Despite some places requiring a specific time requirement to be met to establish and prove a union, in Iowa, this is not the case.

What is Common Law Marriage

The best way to define common law marriages is a union between two individuals who exhibit continuous cohabitation, as well as proof of their relationship, or a public declaration. With a common law marriage, both parties are entitled to the same rights as those who would be legally considered married. It is essential that with common law marriage, there is a clear and obvious declaration that the parties are together and not just roommates, but essentially a spouse to one another.

Is Common Law Legal in Iowa?

Under Iowa law, common law marriage is as valid as a traditional marriage where two people exchange wedding bands. Iowa is one of the very few states that recognize common law marriages.

The court sees common law marriage as an agreement to be married to both parties.

A present intent and agreement are enough for the courts to treat the union like a marriage. Therefore, in Iowa, there is also the possibility of a common law marriage divorce, which is treated as a marriage divorce would be.

What is Considered Married by Common Law?

Under the Iowa court, common law marriage is the proper title if one party or both parties exhibit the following three elements.

Present Intent and Agreement to be Married

In order for Iowa courts to recognize common law marriage, there has to be a clear and present intent to be married to one another.

Continuous Cohabitation

Similarly, as a legally married couple would live together, the same goes for those choosing to call themselves common law married. This element is a prime example of a declaration that the parties are, in fact, together. When a couple lives together if there is any reason for a separation down the road, the legal requirements of who gets what and how to treat the relationship are much easier to discern.

Under continuous cohabitation, there is also this underlying presumption of a sexual relationship, which proves a clear intent for the union or relationship under the marriage courts.

Public Declaration

There are photos, witnesses, and a certificate that states one is husband and wife when you get married. When you embark on a relationship that is considered a common law marriage in Iowa, there has to be some form of substantial declaration of the union between the two individuals. This can include having proof of one person being covered under another's health insurance plan, proof of insurance policies in case of accidental death, joint bank accounts, amongst other factors.

Choosing to go down the common law marriage route is much more than simply living together. The courts may require convincing evidence to entitle one partner to certain benefits and supports depending on the state.

What Happens if We Separate?

What Happens if We Separate?

Unlike traditional marriages where a spouse may seek an attorney or settle for a straightforward divorce, this is not the case with common law. In a common law divorce court, this is not the case for separation under common law marriage. Suppose under the court, it is deemed that the two individuals are, in fact, in a common-law marriage. In that case, the only way for this union to end is to have the court end the common law marriage.

It is not necessary to have attorneys present to represent either party; however, if there is a requirement to determine if one partner owes another partner financial support or if there are assets that require property division, child support, or child custody, then it may be wise to the seek legal services of an attorney.

Suppose in the circumstance of separation there is a requirement for spousal support or child support. In that case, the changes are also going to need to be reflected on tax returns. The reason for this is the government may use it to refer to what benefits either a wife or husband may be entitled to.

In Cases of Death

Should there be an unexpected death, as long as there is an agreement as to who is entitled to what, the Iowa court is going to recognize this document.

If, however, there were divorce proceedings or that separation was in the works when the death happened. The decedent's estate, property, etc., may be court-determined.

The court may also apply and refer to the acid test, which looks at the assets and liabilities of one's estate. Should a spouse of the deceased seek more information, they may find an attorney-client relationship that must be respected. If you're loved one endured a wrongful death or was injured by the negligence of someone else, contact Tom Fowler Law to get an injury settlement.


If you are a party asserting your rights and entitlement to common law marriage benefits, consider seeking attorneys in Iowa. These individuals can provide you with all your necessary legal advice about a common law marriage. These knowledgeable specialists can ensure you receive what is rightfully yours under Iowa law.

For other family legal matter questions such as Iowa's car seat laws, talk to an experienced and trusted attorney.

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