Facts And Myths About Common Law Marriage

First, let’s quickly touch on what common law marriage is. It has many names, depending on where you live, like a marriage by habit or an informal marriage. No matter what it’s called, it is the concept that you—as a couple—receive many if not all of the same rights as a couple who holds a marriage license, is registered with the city, and held a civil or religious ceremony. As the name marriage by habit implies, a common law marriage naturally occurs when a couple leads a certain lifestyle—like when they have lived under the same roof and been together for X amount of years. In many cases, should this couple split up, they’ll need to follow many of the legal proceedings that a formally married couple does because they’ve earned certain rights over the years. Here are myths and facts about common law marriage. Image Source: Shutterstock Myth: The entire U.S. recognizes it Many people go through life believing that, should they simply live with their partner for X amount of years (the typical number is seven) that they’ll be in a common law marriage. But, in fact, not all states recognize this type of marriage. Corbis Fact: Here’s where it counts Alabama, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. That means that 34 states don’t recognize it. Shutterstock Myth: You just need to be together Some people think that you just fall into a common law marriage—whether you want to or not. It’s the reason many couples panic when they realize they’ve lived together for a while, but don’t want to be married. Shutterstock Fact: You need to assert it You’re in a common law marriage if you assert it to the community. This means you call each other husband and wife, file joint taxes, and tell people you’re married. Image Source: Shutterstock Myth: You don’t need a divorce Many people believe that divorces are only necessary if you had a formal wedding. Many common law couples part ways and expect it to be rather simple. Image Source: Shutterstock Fact: You still need a divorce If you have been living within a common law marriage and you split up, you do still need to get a divorce. iStockphoto Myth: You don’t need paperwork While it’s true that you need to do something to make your common law marriage legitimate, like announce it and file joint taxes, that doesn’t mean that if you do nothing, you’re free and clear. Shutterstock Fact: You need to make a contract If you plan on living with someone for decades, but you do not want to be obligated to any of the terms of a married couple, you need to draw up contracts. Your lawyer can make a document for you that says you do not intend to marry. This can allow you to live together for years without being in a common law marriage. Image Source: Shutterstock Myth: It only counts in the states that count it Let’s say you end up in a common law marriage, in a state that recognizes common law marriages, and you no longer want to be together. Easy: just move to a state that doesn’t recognize your marriage, right? Image Source: Shutterstock Fact: It still counts If you entered into a common-law marriage in a state that recognizes them and move to a state that does not, you are still legally married. Shutterstock Myth: You automatically own the home together So what happens if a couple has met all of the qualifications of a common law married couple, only one person technically owns their home, and they split? Many believe that their ex-partner gets half of the property value. Shutterstock Fact: One person owns that property These types of property and asset rights are only allotted to formally married couples. If you’re in a common-law marriage and you’d like your partner to be co-owner of the house, then you need to file paperwork to make it so. Image Source: Shutterstock Myth: Common law couples must adopt their children Somehow, a myth got around that states that, should a common law couple have a child, they must adopt their own child. Shutterstock Fact: Common law parents are still parents Common law parents have all of the same obligations to a child they have together as formally married parents. Their child will take one or both of their last names, and be recognized by the state as theirs. Shutterstock Myth: Common law widows get it all Since even formally married widows don’t always get it all, common law widows certainly don’t. Shutterstock Fact: It’s all in the will A person has a right to put whatever they want in their will. A common law widow is not legally owed her deceased partner’s assets. If he wrote it so, then she is. But only then.

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