Have you heard that story about the couple who lived together for seven years, and then they accidentally became married? Or what about the one where your friends were in a “common law” marriage?
Well… they’re both bogus concepts. At least in California. We don’t even know where the “seven year” part came from.
In California, you’re either married with a state license and certificate from the county clerk (and a few other requirements) or you’re not married. Period. There’s no intermediary status. There’s no “common law” marriage. You can’t accidentally find yourself in a marriage. The law doesn’t care how long it took your significant other to propose, or the size of the ring… or whether there was a ring at all! There are a dozen or so states that recognize “common law” marriage, but we’re not one of them.
So how does the law view your live-in significant other? You know, the person you’ve been living with romantically for years?
To put it simply: short of marriage, the law views your significant other as a roommate. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived together, whether you have children together, or whether you share ownership of property. You need that marriage license in order to be considered lawfully married.
Married couples enjoy benefits that unmarried people do not. Married couples are legally considered family (for example: when visiting one another in a hospital, or for inheritance purposes, or for health care benefits). Unmarried couples cannot own community property. That’s only for married couples, too. Also, tax treatment for married couples is dramatically different than for an unmarried couple.
You may have heard of “Registered Domestic Partners”. Or just “domestic partners”. But that has its own set of requirements, and is governed by state law. It doesn’t happen accidentally or automatically. And it’s only recognized in a few states (including California), but not by the federal government, like marriage is.
A couple’s decision not to marry does not detract from the love, trust, support or any of the interpersonal relationship benefits married couples can share. However, it is important for an unmarried couple to know that the law treats couples in vastly different ways based solely on marital status. A marriage certificate may literally be “just a piece of paper” but that piece of paper has important legal ramifications.
If you would like to discuss how your situation would be affected by getting married (or not), please contact us for a free consultation.