Judicial Recognition of a Relationship as a Marriage
This webpage includes information and forms for recognizing a relationship as a marriage. Its primary focus is on procedures when everyone involved is in agreement and cooperating. It does not include information or forms for litigating that issue.
Talk to an Attorney
Legal recognition of a relationship as a marriage can be complicated. Consider talking to an attorney to go over your options. One way to talk to an attorney is to visit a free legal clinic. Clinics provide general legal information and give brief legal advice. For more information, please see our webpage on Finding Legal Help.
Many people want to get a "common law marriage." Utah does not have common law marriage; instead, you may petition the court to recognize your relationship as a marriage even though you never had a marriage ceremony. If the court approves, the man and woman will be considered to have been married ever since the following conditions have been met. The parties should be prepared to present evidence that the marriage arises out of an agreement between a man and a woman who:
- are of legal age and capable of giving consent;
- are legally capable of entering a solemnized marriage; (For example, there are no reasons, such as a close family relationship, preventing the parties from legally marrying.)
- have lived together;
- treat each other as though they are married; and
- present themselves to the public so that other people believe they are married.
The petition to have a relationship recognized as a marriage must be filed during the relationship or within one year after the relationship ends (one or both partners have died or the partners have separated). Either partner may file the petition or both partners may file the petition together. A third party, such as next of kin, may file the petition.
Evidence of Consent
The consent of both parties is required to form a marriage agreement. The party claiming an unsolemnized marriage must prove that mutual consent to the marriage agreement was given. The following list suggests evidence that might be used to prove consent:
- a written agreement;
- testimony of others who were present when the agreement to assume marital responsibilities was made;
- maintenance of joint banking and credit accounts;
- purchase and joint ownership of property;
- the use of the man's surname by the woman and/or the children of the union;
- the filing of joint tax returns;
- speaking of each other in the presence of third parties as being married; and
- declaring the relationship in documents while living together, such as deeds, wills. Whyte v. Blair, 885 P.2d 791, 795 (Utah 1994).
Effect of Court Decree
The court decree recognizing a relationship as a marriage is the same as getting married, but "the only advantage of a common law marriage is to give formal recognition to marriages informally entered into in the past." Whyte v. Blair, 885 P2d 791 (Utah 1994). If there is no reason to "backdate" the marriage, it is cheaper, simpler and faster just to get married. For more information, please see our webpage on Marriage.
Reasons to have Your Past Relationship Recognized as a Marriage
You may need to have your past relationship recognized as a marriage for several reasons, including:
- to get divorced and divide property; (There is no need to have your relationship recognized as a marriage for child custody, parent-time or child support. These can be ordered with a petition to establish parentage, but the court cannot decree that the parties are divorced until after it has found that they were married.)
- to claim damages in a wrongful death action;
- to claim insurance benefits, retirement benefits, survivor benefits, or public benefits;
- to inherit property; and
- there may be other reasons.
Where to File
If the partners are filing the petition together, they should file in the district court in the county in which they reside. If one partner is filing this petition with a petition for divorce, file this petition in the same court as the divorce petition. There may be special circumstances that require or permit the petition to be filed in another court, and you should talk with a lawyer.
Combining with a Divorce Case
The petitioner may file a Petition to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage together with a divorce petition. The court cannot decree that the parties are divorced until after it has found that they were married. If the court does not combine the two cases, a party may file a motion to consolidate. For more information about consolidating cases, see URCP 42 and our webpage on motions.
Serving Papers - If the partners are filing the petition together, then no one needs to be served. If only one of the partners is filing the petition, then they should have the petition served on the other partner, unless the other partner waives service.
If only one partner files the petition, but the respondent agrees to have the relationship recognized as a marriage, the respondent can avoid litigation by filing a Stipulation to Enter Judgment. If the respondent opposes recognizing the relationship as a marriage, they should file an Answer.
Incapacity or death of one or both partners
If someone wants to have a relationship recognized as a marriage after the incapacity or death of one or both of the partners, they may need to file a probate case so that the court can determine the interests of others who might be affected if the relationship is recognized as a marriage.
A person who wants the court to declare a relationship a marriage after one or both of the partners has died must serve the court-appointed personal representative of the decedent's estate with a copy of the Petition to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage.
Such situations are beyond the scope of this page. Consider talking with an attorney.
Forms to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage
- Checklist for a Petition to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage - PDF | Word
- Civil Coversheet - PDF | Word
- Petition to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage - PDF | Word
- Stipulation to Enter Judgment - PDF | Word
- Summons - Please see our webpage on Summons.
- Proof of Service - Please see our webpage on Serving Papers.
- Request to Submit for Decision - PDF | Word
- Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law - PDF | Word
- Order - PDF | Word
- Notice of Judgment - PDF | Word
Forms for a Default Judgment
- Please see our webpage on Default Judgments.
Forms to Respond to the Petition
- Checklist for Responding to a Petition to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage - PDF | Word
- Please see our webpage on Answers.