HR Hotline: Does Connecticut Recognize Common Law Marriage?
Q: Spring, and love, is apparently in the air. An employee has come in all excited about his special new partner, whom he refers to as his common law wife. His anxious questions about how soon she might be enrolled as his dependent for medical coverage suggest his passion for her is more than matched by his enthusiasm for premium cost-savings. Is common law marriage recognized in Connecticut?
A: As with many questions of this sort, the best answer is “it depends.”
As a starting point, Connecticut law does not recognize common-law marriages, but would give them legal recognition if entered into in a state that recognizes such marriages.
This is the approach taken by the federal FMLA, which defines spouse as including a husband and wife in a common-law marriage if entered into in a state that recognizes common-law marriage.
The Connecticut Department of Labor follows this interpretation in its enforcement of the state FMLA.
A memo from the state Office of Legislative Research references the same analysis and lists the states that recognize common law marriage.
Although somewhat variable from state to state, the primary elements of common law marriage are: (1) cohabitation and (2) the parties holding themselves out to the world, through their conduct, as a married couple.
Such conduct includes: adopting the other party’s last name, filing joint state or federal tax returns, or the parties referring to themselves as spouses.
Employers rarely request proof of marital status regarding enrolling dependent “spouses” for group medical coverage, since doing so may trigger accusations of discrimination if an inquiry appeared to be selectively questioning the validity of marriages based on gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
If, however, you are aware that a claimed marriage is of common-law origin, an inquiry as to where it was entered into and whether or not it is valid in that jurisdiction would seem a defensible request for confirmation of legal recognition.
You might also check with your group medical insurance carrier to confirm their contractual position on this, since some carriers have more liberal policies on who is insurable under a particular policy.
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