com·​mon-law | \ ˈkä-mən-ˌlȯ How to pronounce common-law (audio) \

Definition of common-law

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or based on the common law
2 : relating to or based on a common-law marriage

common law


Definition of common law (Entry 2 of 2)

: the body of law developed in England primarily from judicial decisions based on custom and precedent, unwritten in statute or code, and constituting the basis of the English legal system and of the system in all of the U.S. except Louisiana

Examples of common-law in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Eventually, his longtime partner succumbed to intravenous drug use, and, though they were married by common law, he was barred from attending her funeral. Jonathan Reiss, Rolling Stone, "How a Psychedelic 12-Step Program Is Saving Lives," 10 May 2021 In an attempt to mount more successful defenses, Darrow dug into the conspiracy doctrine’s history to uncover its basis in English common law, only to discover that its original purpose had been turned on its head. Astra Taylor, The New Republic, "In Defense of Liberal Conspirators," 6 May 2021 But that quirky common law says Jack actually attains his 62nd birthday on May 1, 2021. Tom Margenau, Dallas News, "The age-old rules: Facts about Social Security checks everyone should know," 25 Apr. 2021 Another argument is that Section 42 ROFRs have a different meaning under New York law than common law ROFRs. Peter J Reilly, Forbes, "New York AG Supports Community Group In Battle With AIG Over Tax Credit Property," 21 Apr. 2021 The states have a preexisting duty back to common law before there was a republic. Tax Notes Staff, Forbes, "The Tax Issues Facing Tax-Exempt Organizations," 27 Apr. 2021 New colonial laws nullified a previous understanding in British common law that baptism granted freedom. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, The New York Review of Books, "A Praise House of Many Mansions," 13 Apr. 2021 Escheat was originally an English common law and was the idea that the real property of a decedent without a legal beneficiary under intestate laws should not be allowed to remain unclaimed. Charles Read, Forbes, "What Is Escheat, And How Does It Affect Every U.S. Business?," 16 Apr. 2021 The United States is a common law country; France and Germany operate under versions of the Napoleonic Code. James M. Rosenbaum, Star Tribune, "Counterpoint: Take it from a judge — put your trust in juries," 14 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'common-law.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of common-law


1619, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of common-law was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Common-law.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for common-law



English Language Learners Definition of common-law

 (Entry 1 of 2)

used to describe a relationship between a man and a woman that is considered to be a marriage because the man and woman have lived together for a long period of time

common law


English Language Learners Definition of common law (Entry 2 of 2)

: the laws that developed from English court decisions and customs and that form the basis of laws in the U.S.

common law


Legal Definition of common law

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a body of law that is based on custom and general principles and embodied in case law and that serves as precedent or is applied to situations not covered by statute the common law of torts : as
a : the body of law that was first developed in the English courts of law as distinguished from equity and that allows for particular remedies (as damages or replevin) in suits at common law…the right of trial by jury shall be preservedU.S. Constitution amend. VII — compare equity sense 2
b : the body of law developed in England that is the basis of U.S. federal law and of state law in all states except Louisiana — compare civil law sense 2, statutory law



Legal Definition of common-law (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or based on the common law common-law immunity
2 : relating to or based on a common-law marriage her common-law husband

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