The case of Meister v. Moore (96 U.S. 76 (1877)), helped define the concept of the common-law marriage. Basically, a marriage is a contract, and under the common law, contracts can be entered into in a variety of ways, including informally. A common-law marriage is a valid contract entered into in an informal manner, much like verbal contract. It is still valid an enforceable.

  • The Court noted that a Statute can explicitly ban common-law marriage and require that all marriages be solemnized (kind of like how the Statute of Frauds requires some contracts to be in writing). However, if the State doesn't specifically forbid common-law marriage, then it is permissible.
    • The basic rule is that if the State does not say 'no', then common-law marriage is available.
  • Today, 3/4th of the States do not permit common-law marriage, and have explicit Statutes against the practice.
    • See Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act 211A 211B.