The Differences Between Marriage and Common-Law Marriage

The Differences Between Marriage and Common-Law Marriage

Marriage and common-law marriage might seem similar on the surface, but important differences exist that couples need to consider. Although both relationship types involve commitment and partnership, the legal implications vary significantly. We’ll discuss the differences between marriage and common-law marriage and dive into some key factors to consider when deciding which one is best for your relationship.

Estate Planning

One of the first variances to know about deals with estate planning. Married couples usually enjoy automatic inheritance rights in case one spouse dies without a will. In contrast, a common-law spouse often has no legal right to inherit their partner’s estate if there is no will or trust in place that explicitly states their inheritance. This could lead to financial hardship for the surviving partner. Therefore, if you’re in a common-law relationship, learning how estate planning is different for unmarried couples can help you get more from the process.

Government and Work Benefits

Numerous governmental and employer-provided benefits differ for married couples and those in common-law marriages. Married couples have access to Social Security benefits based on their spouse’s earnings or the ability to take time off work to care for their spouse. Common-law marriages, which only a limited number of states recognize, might not have the same access to these benefits without proper legal documentation. Make sure you research your state’s recognition of common-law marriage and the benefits associated with one.

Financial Responsibilities

Financial responsibilities also differences between marriage and common-law marriage. Typically, married couples share the responsibility for debts incurred during the marriage. This can include mortgages, credit card debts, and even student loan payments. On the other hand, those in common-law marriages might not legally share responsibility for their partner’s financial liabilities. This could lead to complications during a separation or if one partner becomes incapacitated, as the other partner might not assume those debts.

Ending the Relationship

Dissolving a marriage legally or through divorce comes with a structured process that involves the division of assets, child custody, and potential spousal support arrangements. In contrast, ending a common-law marriage may not involve the same legal process, leaving room for ambiguity when it comes to asset division and financial responsibilities. Sorting out property and financial disputes can be both challenging and time consuming, which is why you should create a cohabitation agreement when entering a common-law marriage.

Global Recognition

Finally, traditional marriage is universally recognized, while common-law marriage isn’t. This means that if you plan on traveling or moving to another country, you might not have a recognized marital status, which could have implications for immigration. Ensure you consult with an attorney to acquire the necessary documentation and prepare for any legal recognition issues that may arise overseas.

While both marriage and common-law marriage can provide strong foundations for long-term relationships, you must understand the distinctions and legal implications thoroughly. By assessing your unique situation and prioritizing open communication with your partner, you can make informed decisions about which relationship type is best for you.

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