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Common Law Marriage

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Interviewer: So your husband, Tim Burton... actually, not your husband. How do you refer to Tim: your life partner, significant other, boyfriend?
HBC: I don't know; I haven't got a satisfactory word! Father of my bastards, perhaps?

For one reason or another, this "married" couple just never legally tied the knot.

Maybe one of them is an immortal vampire without Undead Tax Exemption. Maybe there were legal issues precluding an official ceremony/registration. Maybe one didn't want to get married but gradually ended up in a situation similar to it due to external circumstances. Maybe they always meant to but just never got around to it. Regardless of the reason, they are, for all intent and purposes, a married couple.


They may have children together or even be referred to as married, but they never got anything formalized. This doesn't mean that the couple never gets married; just that they go a very long time without doing so and little actually changes after the wedding. Many stories even end with the two getting officially married in a ceremony.

See Happily Married. Metaphorical Marriage represents a wedding-like moment that however is not an official wedding. Contrast Innocent Cohabitation. It may result from a Not Really Married Plot. It may result in a Heroic Bastard. For more information, see the Wikipedia page.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Trisha Elric and Van Hohenheim in Fullmetal Alchemist were never married despite having two sons together. This may have been due to Hohenheim being immortal and generally refraining from having close relationships with mortals.
  • In the Gundam Wing sequel novel Frozen Teardrops, Heero and Relena are living together in a nice house on Mars, and are contemplating having a baby. They have had a wedding, but the marriage was not legally binding, because they were denied when they went to get the marriage license, because Heero couldn't produce documentation saying who his father was. When he finally finds that documentation, he suggests to Relena that they go get the legal aspect straightened out, so their eventual children won't have to go through the rigamarole and social stigma that he's had to go through.
  • Implied in Lyrical Nanoha with Nanoha and Fate, who may or may not be a romantic couple and are certainly not married, but who undeniably live together and raise Vivio as a daughter together.
  • Yosho and Airi in Tenchi Muyo! are common law married due to their complicated history. They were classmates at the Galaxy Police Academy and eventually formed a relationship, where Airi became pregnant shortly before Yosho ran away to Earth. They met back up years later when Airi found him, their daughter Minaho in tow, and they got married by common law since Yosho was still officially MIA and their respective planets are bitter rivals so their relationship would be a major political bomb were it to be formalized.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man: After the One More Day arc infamously retconned Peter and Mary Jane's marriage out of existence, their official backstory changed so that their relationship for the most part remained intact, but they never legally got married, and they merely broke up instead of divorced.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lincoln: Thaddeus is shown in bed with his (black) housekeeper who he loves as his wife, as interracial marriages are still unacceptable in society.

  • In Dune, Leto Atreides and Jessica are for all intents and purposes married, but she's officially only a bound concubine to keep Leto single for political maneuvering.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand are "paramours," which in their native Dorne refers to a noble and their romantic partner that they can't legally marry, such as a bastard (in Ellaria's case), a commoner, or the same sex. Even if the noble takes a legal spouse for the purpose of joining houses, it's an open secret that their real partner is their paramour. In the rest of Westeros, such behavior is considered scandalous, but Dorne prides itself on being socially and sexually progressive.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The Mr. Vice Guy Highprince Sebarial and his longterm mistress Palona are Happily Married in every way except the marriage itself; she's the head of his household and has a lot of de facto authority in his warcamps, which she uses very judiciously. It's mentioned that he's proposed to her several times.
  • In Tales of the Otori, Muto Shizuka and Arai Daiichi have been together for years, and Shizuka has borne him two sons, but they have never formally married.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dharma & Greg: Dharma's parents deliberately chose never to marry. They consider this a beautiful symbol of choosing to stay together again every day, but Dharma confesses towards the end of the show that she spent her entire childhood panicking that tomorrow would be the day they decided not to.
  • On an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob and Laurie discover that, since Laurie lied about her age when she married Rob, their marriage was illegitimate. The next episode was about them marrying for real.
  • The Gilmore Girls revival reveals that, ten years later, Luke and Lorelai are still together, but still unmarried. After Lorelai reevaluates the relationship, in the final episode they finally get married.
  • How I Met Your Mother: The series finale, which is set over multiple years, reveals that this was the case for Ted and Tracy. The two were engaged, but the wedding was postponed after Tracy got pregnant...twice. After being engaged for five years and having two children together, Ted reproposes and they get married just a few days later.

     Mythology and Religion 
  • From the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve. They received a blessing from God (as did all of Creation), but they had no formal wedding, and (being the only people on Earth), no marriage license, certificate, contract, or other legal stuff. However, Adam still refers to Eve as his wife.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, this is what happens with your love interests unless you marry Alistair or Anora. With Leiliana, Zevran, and Morrigan, you never officially marry, but you're still together 10 years later during Dragon Age: Inquisition. In Morrigan's case, the two of you are even raising the child you conceived in the first game.
  • A more questionable case crops up in Star Wars: The Old Republic with Darth Malgus and Eleena Daru. Eleena was a Twi'lek slave Malgus acquired, using her as a Sex Slave and for various tasks, but grew fond of her. Eventually, the pair considered each other this, but Eleena had no legal standing in the Empire other than being a Sith Lord's prized property. Malgus also beat her when he was angry (and being a Sith, he was often angry), and when another Sith pointed out she was a potential liability, he murdered his "wife" in her sickbed. He faced no legal repercussions for this. Sith are above the law in the Empire, and Eleena was "merely" a Twi'lek Sex Slave as far as Imperial law saw it.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: Zig-zagged with Jake and Lady Rainicorn. They've been dating since before the series began, are still together five in-series years later by the finale, and in a song Jake once described Lady Rainicorn as "basically my wife". However, they only lived in the same house when they were raising their children—which only took a few weeks.
  • Steven Universe:
    • The episode "Gem Harvest" reveals that despite Rose Quartz and Greg living together for years before deciding to have Steven, they were never formally married, much to the disgust of Greg's cousin Andy.
      Uncle Andy: What do you mean you weren't technically married?
    • Ruby and Sapphire have been together for 5,750 years, but marriage is a foreign concept to Gems so it never occurred to them to marry. However, in "The Question", Ruby, at Steven's suggestion, proposes to Sapphire to mark their reunion, who accepts, and they are married two episodes later in "Reunited".
  • Before the start of the series, Krolia and Keith's father from Voltron: Legendary Defender lived together as a couple and had a son together, but had no way of legally marrying on Earth. Due to circumstances parting them they only lived together for a few years, but the two had every intention of living together for the rest of their lives.
  • Wakfu: After the season two finale, Sadlygrove and Evangelyne started living together. After a while, Sadlygrove tries to propose, but gets to distracted by Evangelyne revealing she's pregnant. Several more years later, they actually get married.

    Real Life 
  • In some ancient legislations, such unions could be automatically upgraded to full-blown marriages, such as Ancient Rome.
  • In certain US states such as Texas, common law marriage is legally recognized and has all the same legal rights as formal marriage; the only difference is that a ceremony is not performed.
  • In many ancient societies, this type of marriage was regular marriage. Formal weddings were reserved for royalty and nobility; everyone else just moved in together with little or no fanfare.
  • In places where same-sex marriage isn't legally recognized, this is the default status of long-term gay couples. Even if vows are exchanged, such occasions are often referred to as "commitment ceremonies" rather than weddings since they hold no legal status. Where this really harms gay couples is if one partner dies without a will; a particularly vindictive family can swoop in and claim the deceased's assets (including the couple's home if it was in the deceased's name) since the partner has no legal recourse. Technically any cohabiting couple faces this risk, but it was heartbreakingly common with gay male couples during the AIDS crisis. Some jurisdictions have come up with civil unions or domestic partnerships to offer limited benefits of marriage—sometimes being marriage in all but name—but LGBT advocates have called them out for their "separate but equal" nature.note 
  • Religious sects that practice polygamy but live someplace that outlaws the practice essentially fall into this, where you have men with a single legal wife and one or more "spirit wives". Utah has a high number of Fundamentalist Mormons that are polygamous (not to be confused with mainline Mormons who banned the practice in 1890), but since the state is one of the handful that legally recognizes commonlaw marriage, Utah takes the standard ban against polygamy one step further by making it illegal to even present oneself as having multiple wives.


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