Can I Sue for Wrongful Death as a Common-Law Spouse in California?

Wrongful Death
Common Law Marriage in California

By Sandra Dalton, Staff Writer

It has become the norm for couples to live together without getting married. Many cohabitating couples plan to get married sometime in the future. Others feel that formalizing their commitment is simply unnecessary. But what most couples don’t realize is the precarious position this leaves them in should something happen to either of them. Too many people assume, and are wrongly advised by friends and family, that having lived together for years in a committed relationship will afford them the same legal rights as formal marriage, but it doesn’t work that way.

No Common-Law Marriage in California

You cannot form a common-law marriage in California. No matter how long your lived together, even if you used the same last name and represented yourselves as married, California will not recognize your marriage and you will not be able to sue for wrongful death if your partner dies. However, California does recognize common-law marriages that were formed in the few states that allow it.


If you and your partner entered a concubinage relationship in Mexico, you need to know that California does not recognize a concubine as a spouse, and you will not be allowed to sue for wrongful death.

Who Can Receive Wrongful Death Compensation?

In California, the following can receive wrongful death compensation:

  • Surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Children and other direct descendants such as grandchildren and great-grandchildren
  • Heirs according to the laws of intestate succession

Also, if they can prove that they were dependent on the deceased, the following can receive compensation:

  • Putative spouse
  • Children of the putative spouse
  • Stepchildren
  • Parents

To learn more about wrongful death and your rights in California, please review our directory to talk to an experienced California wrongful death attorney.

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