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Can you be married but not legally married?

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United States

No. Marriage is a legal arrangement under civil law. That means marriage in the United States is restricted and governed by state laws. Therefore, in order to be considered legally married the parties must meet all the requirements for a valid marriage in the state where they will be married.

A legal marriage bestows a host of legal rights under state and federal law, benefits and obligations. The most important of those legal rights are related to inheritance, health insurance, government entitlements and child custody. The children born of the marriage will be considered legitimate and both parents share all the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. In the case of a couple who is not legally married, the mother is considered the custodial parent unless the father establishes his paternity in court.

Religious clergy, along with many other civil officials and civilians with permits, are permitted by the government to perform marriage ceremonies but only when the parties have obtained a civil marriage license. A couple who has only a religious ceremony is not legally married.

Several states still recognize common law marriages. However, common law marriage generally does not always bestow all the legal rights as formal marriage.

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