I often am asked what constitutes a valid California marriage. Does California recognize a “Common law marriage”? The answer is no. California does not provide for a common law marriage. It does not matter how long a couple have been together in a committed relationship. If you have not married your partner then you are not married pursuant to California law.
Elements of valid marriage
In general—consent, license, solemnization, authentication: A valid marriage under California law requires the consent of the parties to that civil contract. [Fam.C. § 300(a)] But the parties’ consent does not alone constitute a marriage. To validate the marriage, the consent must be followed by issuance of a license (Fam.C. § 350 et seq.), solemnization (Fam.C. § 400 et seq.) and authentication (Fam.C. §§ 422–425); and the authenticated marriage license “shall be returned to the county recorder of the county where the marriage license was issued.” [Fam.C. §§ 300, 306; see also Fam.C. §§ 359, 360; Lockyer v. City & County of San Francisco (2004) 33 C4th 1055, 1075, 17 CR3d 225, 235–236; Estate of DePasse (2002) 97 CA4th 92, 101, 118 CR2d 143, 150]
What if you are married outside of California (or in a foreign country)? The answer is that the marriage is valid so long as the marriage complied with all legal requirements of the jurisdiction where you married. Typically, this means that you obtained a valid marriage license, the marriage was consensual and was authorized pursuant to law.
If the marriage is not a valid marriage then the marriage may be void or voidable (depending on the situation). Therefore, it is extremely important when considering a divorce to first consider whether your marriage is a valid marriage under California law. If it is not a valid marriage then you may not have to file a divorce lawsuit.
If you have any questions regarding your California divorce matter please contact attorney Keith F. Simpson in Manhattan Beach, California at (310) 297-9090 to discuss your matter today.