common law

the system of law originating in England, as distinct from the civil or Roman law and the canon or ecclesiastical law.
the unwritten law, especially of England, based on custom or court decision, as distinct from statute law.
the law administered through the system of courts established for the purpose, as distinct from equity or admiralty.

1300–50; Middle English Unabridged


of, pertaining to, or established by common law: a common-law spouse.

1905–10 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
common law
1.  the body of law based on judicial decisions and custom, as distinct from statute law
2.  the law of a state that is of general application, as distinct from regional customs
3.  (modifier) common-law denoting a marriage deemed to exist after a couple have cohabited for several years: common-law marriage; common-law wife

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

common law
c.1350, "the customary and unwritten laws of England as embodied in commentaries and old cases" (see common), as opposed to statute law. Phrase common law marriage is attested from 1909.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

common law definition

Law developed in the course of time from the rulings of judges, as opposed to law embodied in statutes passed by legislatures (statutory law) or law embodied in a written constitution (constitutional law). (See stare decisis.)

Note: The importance of common law is particularly stressed in the legal system of Britain, on which the legal system of the United States is based.
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Common-law marriages are not invalidated by this chapter.
There are four requirements for a common-law marriage.
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