Common law marriage is widely misunderstood and misused term. If you enter into a common law marriage, you are just as married as if you got a wedding license and went through a marriage ceremony. Common law marriages can complicate things when filing for taxes, so talk to a lawyer if you need legal advice about your marriage status and tax filings.
Common Law Marriages
A common law marriage occurs when a couple meets the requirements imposed by state laws. As of February, 2011, nine states and the District of Columbia allow couples to get married through common law, while five other states allow for common law marriage that were entered into before specific dates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. If you are get married through common law in a state that recognizes it, you are legally married and all other states must recognize the validity of your marriage.
Common Law Requirements
Many people believe there is some kind of time limit -- seven years is a widely held belief -- that, once you've been in a relationship for that long, you then automatically become married. This is not true. While state requirements differ, to become married through common law you must be an adult, be in a relationship in which both parties intend to be married and hold yourself out as a married couple to the general public.
Filing as Married
Filing as a married couple is one way in which common law couples can establish the "holding out to public as married" requirement of common law marriage. When you file your tax returns, you must not fraudulently or willfully misrepresent any information. If you are married through common law, you cannot later subsequently say you are single unless you get a divorce. Even if you were married through common law, there is no such thing as common law divorce and you can only end your marriage if a court enters a dissolution of marriage order.
Filing as Single When Married
If you are married, filing as single can lead to trouble. Any time you lie on you tax returns you face significant potential penalties. If you've filed as single when you are married, this could be a violation of federal law and lead to criminal charges being filed against you. Section 7206 of the tax code states that making such false statements is a felony offense with up to $5,000 in fines and three years imprisonment as potential penalties.
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Common-Law Marriage
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: U.S. Code Title 26 section 7206
- Tax Foundation. "Understanding the Marriage Penalty and Marriage Bonus." Accessed Aug. 24, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Earned Income Tax Credit Income Limits and Maximum Credit Amounts." Accessed Aug. 24, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2020." Accessed Aug. 24, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Questions and Answers for the Additional Medicare Tax." Accessed Aug. 24, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Questions and Answers on the Net Investment Income Tax." Accessed Aug. 24, 2020.
- Tax Foundation. "2020 Tax Brackets: Capital Gains." Accessed Aug. 24, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction." Accessed Aug. 25, 2020.
- Congressional Budget Office. "For Better or Worse: Marriage and the Federal Income Tax." Page 12. Accessed Aug. 25, 2020.
Roger Thorne is an attorney who began freelance writing in 2003. He has written for publications ranging from "MotorHome" magazine to "Cruising World." Thorne specializes in writing for law firms, Web sites, and professionals. He has a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas.