Common Law Marriage

By : Travis Brenner

In Iowa, there are two forms of marriage that are recognized. The first being the traditional marriage that is completed by meeting the necessary requirements and applying for a marriage license. The second type of marriage is known as common law marriage. Common law marriage in Iowa is informal and is generally disfavored by public policy. Therefore, claims of common law marriage will be strictly scrutinized by a reviewing court. Individuals who claim to be common law married have the burden of proving they meet the requirements for a common law marriage.

The three required elements for a common law marriage are: (1) the present intent and agreement of both parties to be married; (2) continuous cohabitation; and (3) public declarations or holding out to the public that the parties are husband and wife (or wife and wife, or husband and husband). Common law marriage will not exist if the parties keep the relationship a secret. Additionally, there is not a fixed amount of time couples must cohabitate in order to establish a common law marriage.

If you have questions or concerns regarding a common law marriage or other family law related matters, the attorneys at Hartung Schroeder are available to help.


Travis has been a law clerk at Hartung Schroeder for the past year and will join the firm as an associate attorney upon completing his JD and MBA at Drake University. Some of his experience includes assisting clients with forming nonprofit organizations and other business entities as a student attorney in the Drake Legal Clinic. In the future, he hopes to develop a real estate practice that will complement the firm’s diverse areas of practice.