California Marriage: Traditional and Common Law Marriages and Domestic Partners

California marriage and domestic partnership requirements, plus common-law marriage information.

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What are the requirements for getting legally married in California?

California does not require a blood test before a marriage license will be issued. You can marry immediately after your marriage license is issued, and your license is good for 90 days after it's issued. After that time, you'll have to get a new one before you can marry.

In California, as in most states, you must be of the age of consent, not be too closely related to your intended spouse, not be married to anyone else, and have sufficient "mental capacity," meaning you understand what you are doing when you marry.

Does California have common-law marriage?

No. In California, you must obtain a marriage license and enter into a legal marriage in order to be considered married. Living together and taking the same name don't create a common-law marriage.

Does California have same-sex marriage?

Yes. After a drawn-out marriage equality battle, same-sex marriage is once again legal in California.

A little background

Same-sex marriage was legal for five and a half months, unil the passage of Proposition 8 or "Prop. 8" (a same-sex marriage ban) in November 2008 limited marriage in California to opposite-sex couples.

In August 2010, United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker (a federal judge) overturned Prop. 8, ruling that the ballot measure violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution (Perry v. Schwarzenegger). Judge Walker issued a statewide injunction against enforcement of Prop. 8, but also issued a stay (delay) of his own order pending appeal. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Walker’s decision and kept the stay in place pending the U.S. Supreme Court's review.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the Perry case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) because, it ruled, the proponents of Prop. 8 did not have “legal standing” to appeal the district court's decision where state officials, including the governor, refused to defend the law. Lack of standing means that the Prop. 8 supporters could not show they suffered a sufficient harm from the lower court’s decision to support their participation in the case.

The June 26 decision let the Federal District Court's ruling stand and cleared the path for same-sex marriages to resume in California, but they could not take place until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay of the lower court’s order. The Ninth Circuit surprised everyone by dissolving the stay only two days after the court's decision. Once that happened, California Governor Jerry Brown directed all court officials and clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

If you're in a same-sex couple and were married during the period of time in 2008 when same-sex marriage was legal in California, your marriage is still valid.

Does California still offer domestic partnerships?

Yes, domestic partnership is still available. A couple who registers as domestic partners in California has all the same rights and responsibilities as married people for the purposes of state law. Although the Supreme Court's June 26 decision to overturn DOMA in U.S. v. Windsor means that same-sex married couples will qualify for federal benefits, the federal government does not recognize domestic partnerships. And, if you are in a registered domestic partnership in California, the Supreme Court's ruling in Perry has no effect on your relationship status. Domestic partnership registrations are different from marriage licenses. The California Secretary of State’s Office will continue to process domestic partnership registrations and notices of termination of domestic partnerships.

Learn about the proper legal steps to define and protect your relationship in the eyes of the law with Living Together: A Legal Guide, by Ralph Warner, Toni Ihara, and Attorney Frederick Hertz (Nolo), or Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples, by Denis Clifford, Frederick Hertz, and Emily Doskow (Nolo).

Learn about the current status of same-sex marriage across the U.S. and around the world, and get help in deciding whether a legal commitment is right for you, in Making it Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership, and Civil Unions, by Frederick Hertz and Emily Doskow (Nolo), available July 2009.

Last updated 07/10/2013

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