Though laws regarding marriage are well regulated by the states, at one point, most state laws allowed for the institution of common law marriage. Common law marriages were based not just on the desire of the couple to live together or by their actually living or having lived together. For a common law marriage to achieve validity as a marriage, the couple must have lived together for a certain amount of time, had sexual relations, and represented themselves as husband and wife in all affairs and to all people. Though no marriage ceremony had taken place, their children are viewed as legitimate and surviving families are entitled to state sanctioned inheritance.
Currently, the majority of states do not recognize common law marriage. Three states that do not recognize common law marriages (Georgia, Idaho, and Indiana) recognize unions that were entered into before certain dates (for Georgia and Idaho the year is 1997, for Indiana the year is 1958).