Cohabiting does not equal marriage in Ohio

Published 7:02 pm Friday, September 11, 2020

Dear Lawyer Mark: I have been living with my husband for a couple years.

We have a baby girl and are buying a mobile home together.

I keep after him to get him to marry me on paper, but he keeps saying that taxes are more expensive for married folks than for single people living together.

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Anyways, he says he loves me and that we will get married one day in the future, just not right now. He also said we are common law married, just like his parents are because they did the same thing, so it don’t matter what everyone else thinks.

My question is, are we common law married? – Common in Chesapeake

Dear Uncommon: Unfortunately for you, Ohio does not recognize common law marriages unless they were established prior to Oct. 10, 1991, or have been created and recognized in another state.

Ohio Revised Code Section 3105.12 specifically provides that unless one of those two exceptions has occurred, a marriage must be conducted by a clergyman or certain elected officials. Assuming you have been living in Ohio with your boyfriend and not in a state that recognizes common law marriage, then he is your boyfriend and your child’s father, but he is not your husband.

As to whether his parents have a common law marriage, they would have to show that they fit into one of those two exceptions.
In order to show they did have a common law marriage, they would have to prove several things.

First, they would have to show they agreed to be husband and wife at that point in time, not just “we agree to get married someday.”
Second, they would have to “cohabit,” or live together and engage in marital relations.
Third, they would have to show they held themselves out to the community as a married couple.

This could be done by not only showing the length of the relationship and what the community thought, but also by showing documents from that time period: Did a deed for property to them list them as husband and wife? Did they file as “married” on their income tax returns? Did they list each other as “spouse” on health insurance, retirement accounts, bank accounts, etc.? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it could indicate that they really weren’t treating themselves as a married couple.

As for your boyfriend claiming taxes are cheaper for you if you aren’t married, you may want to personally do the tax forms both ways this year. It might be interesting for you to find out what dollar figure your boyfriend puts on your relationship.


Thought for the Week: “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” Socrates


It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.