Married couples receive a variety of benefits, often sharing in a spouse's insurance coverage, for example. However, "common law" couples face additional hurdles when trying to get coverage under their partner's insurance coverage. Common law rules differ among states, so talk to a lawyer if you need legal advice about your relationship and what you can claim as a common law couple.
Common Law Marriage
While people often refer to couples living together as a "common law" couple, that term doesn't necessarily have any legal weight. A couple can live together for as long as they desire and they will not become married unless two things happen: They live in a state that allows common law marriage, and they meet the state requirements for becoming married through common law. Simply referring to yourself as a "common law" couple is not enough to be married through common law, nor does it entitle you to marital privileges.
Common Law Requirements
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nine states and the District of Columbia allow couples to get married through common law. Five other states have provisions where common law marriages are possible before a specific date. Each state has slightly different requirements for how a couple can obtain a common law marriage, but the requirements are mostly similar. A couple must be of legal age to get married, must agree to get married and must hold themselves out publicly as a married couple.
Insurance companies have the right to set their own terms and conditions of coverage. Further, each state's laws and regulations differ about insurance coverage and proof of marriage. For example, Emory University's health care coverage allows couples to get health care for their legally married spouses. The insurance plan requires that if the couple has a different last name, they must provide proof of marriage through such items as a marriage certificate or jointly filed tax return.
While getting married through common law is relatively straightforward, proving that you are legally wed is often more difficult for common law couples. Insurance carriers may require proof that you are married, and each carrier may have different rules about what constitutes proof. Common law couples typically have no marriage certificate or license to prove that they are married. However, joint tax returns, joint rental agreements, bill payments or any other legal or financial document that shows you are married can sometimes be used.