A common law wife is a woman who is married under common law to another person, and is recognized as being part of a common law marriage. Various countries and regions within them have laws dealing with marriage and whether or not common law marriages can be recognized. A common law wife may change her name if she so desires, though she may have to receive a court order for her name change to be fully recognized by government agencies and certain private businesses.
Common law marriage, of which a common law wife would be a part, is the process by which two people can be married without a legal or religious proceeding and without filing papers with local government recognizing the marriage. Different countries and regions within a country can have very different laws regarding common law marriage and the way in which it can be performed and accepted. In Australia, for example, a common law marriage is typically referred to as a “de facto relationship” or “domestic relationship” and the legality and requirements for such a marriage depend on the laws of each territory.
Canada similarly establishes the requirements for a person to become a common law wife based on each province. Quebec, for example, does not recognize any sort of common law marriage, however, many laws regarding married couples also stipulate how they can apply to “de facto unions” as well. In British Columbia, on the other hand, a woman who has lived with a partner in a relationship for more than two years can be considered a common law wife by the laws of the “Estate Administration Act.”
Different states within the United States have individual laws regarding common law marriage, and most states do not recognize the rights of a common law wife. Only a handful of states, including Texas, Colorado, Utah, and Alabama allow common law marriage, while many other states either have never recognized common law marriages or no longer do so. Some states have made recent changes and only recognize common law marriages prior to certain dates, such as Ohio, which only recognizes common law marriages prior to 10 November 1991.
While different states may define the process to become a common law wife differently, the typical requirements are for a couple to live together for an extensive period of time, though this period is seldom specified, and act as though they are married. This typically includes referring to each other as “husband” or “wife,” as well as filing a joint tax return. Though many states recognize name changes through usage, allowing a common law wife to easily take her partner’s name, most government agencies and businesses such as banks may require a court order to officially recognize a new name.