Judicial Recognition of a Relationship as a Marriage
This page has forms and information on how to ask the court to recognize your relationship as a marriage. The forms are meant to help you get started, but do not include every possible form you might need. Forms are in the Forms Section below.
Many people want to get a "common law marriage." Utah does not have common law marriage. Instead, you can ask the court to recognize your relationship as a marriage even though you never had a marriage ceremony. If the court approves, the partners will be considered to have been married ever since the requirements below have been met.
The person asking for the relationship to be recognized as a marriage (the petitioner) should be ready to show the court that the marriage comes from an agreement between partners who:
- are of legal age and capable of giving consent
- are legally capable of entering a solemnized marriage (You can't marry someone you are closely related to – that would prevent you 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.
There are time limits to asking for the relationship to be recognized. Paperwork 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 paperwork. A third party, such as next of kin, may also file.
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriages are valid. There are still issues related to this decision that have not been settled. If you have questions about judicial recognition of a same-sex marriage, you might want to get legal advice. See our Finding Legal Help page for more information.
Proof of Consent
Both parties must have consented or agreed to be married. The petitioner will have to prove this. Here are some things that might help to prove consent:
- a written agreement
- witnesses who testify that they were present when the agreement to assume marital responsibilities was made
- holding joint banking and credit accounts
- purchasing and jointly owning real estate together
- one of the parties using the other party's last name
- filing joint tax returns
- talking about each other in the presence of third parties as being married and
- declaring the relationship in documents while living together, such as deeds and wills
Whyte v. Blair, 885 P.2d 791, 795 (Utah 1994).
If the Court Grants Your Request
If the court grants your request it will sign a decree. The decree will recognize your relationship as a marriage. The decree recognizing a relationship as a marriage is the same as getting married. The only advantage of a common law marriage is to formally recognize marriages informally entered into in the past. 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 a few different reasons. Here are some examples:
- 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, or
- to inherit property
Steps in the court process
Consider just getting married
The court order recognizing a relationship as a marriage is the same as getting married, and the only advantage is to give formal recognition to marriages informally entered into in the past. If there is no reason to "backdate" the marriage, it is cheaper, simpler and faster just to get married.
Fill out the documents
The petitioner files the forms with the court (forms are available in the Forms section below).
Here is a list of the forms you need to start your case and some tips for completing the paperwork:
- Summons - choose the right one depending on whether the person to be served is in Utah
- In State - 1015GE
- Out of State - 1016GE
File the documents
File in the district court in the county in which you reside. If you are 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 allow you to file the petition in another court. If you aren't sure, consider getting legal advice. See our Finding Legal Help page for more information.
For information about how to file documents, see our Filing Procedures web page.
You must pay a filing fee when you file the papers with the court. If you cannot afford the fees you can ask the judge to waive them. For more information, see our Fees and Fee Waiver web page.
Have the documents served
Have the other party served with the Petition, Summons, and other documents no later than 120 days after the petition is filed. The documents must be served by one of the methods described in Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d). You must provide proof of service once service has been completed. For more information about service, see the Serving Papers web page.
The other party has 21 days (if they were served in Utah) or 30 days (if they were served outside of Utah) to respond to ("answer") the petition if they disagree with anything it says. For more information, see the Answering a Complaint or Petition web page.
The other party's options
If the other party…
Files an Answer
Both parties must provide initial disclosures to one another. See the Initial Disclosures web page.
The court may order the parties to try to come to an agreement in mediation. For more information, see the Mediation web page.
If you don't settle then you can ask to go to trial. See the Getting Ready for Trial web page for information and forms.
Agrees with everything asked for in the Petition before it is
filed, or the parties come to an agreement after it is filed.
The other party can sign a Stipulation to Enter Judgment and file it with the court. File this along with the Request to Submit for Decision, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and the Order
Does not file an answer
If the other party has been properly served and does not file an answer within the time specified in the Summons, then you can ask for a default judgment. This means the petitioner gets what they have asked for, and the other party won't have a chance to tell their side of the story. For more information and forms, see the Default Judgments web page.
Combining with a Divorce Case
You can file a Petition to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage together with a divorce petition. See our page on Divorce for information about the divorce process.
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, either party may file a motion to consolidate. For more information about consolidating cases, see URCP 42 and our webpage on motions.
If one or both parties are deceased or incapacitated
Things are more complicated if a party to the relationship dies or no longer has the capacity to understand their legal affairs.
If a party has died, someone will have to file to become appointed that person's personal representative. Our page on Informal Probate has information on the probate process.
If a party no longer has the capacity to understand their legal affairs, someone might have to help them work on the best way to handle their legal affairs. See our Options for Protecting an Adult with Diminished Capacity page for more information.
These situations can get complicated. Consider getting legal advice. See our Finding Legal Help page for more information.
Forms to ask to Recognize a Relationship as a Marriage
- Proof of Service
Forms to Respond to the Petition
See the Answering a Complaint or Petition web page for information and forms.
Asking for Default Judgment
See the Default Judgment web page for information and forms.
Going to Trial
See the Getting Ready for Trial web page for information and forms.