August 8, 2011

Cohabitation means living together in an intimate relationship. Cohabitation implies a relationship that is like a marriage, but without any legal ties. People may choose cohabitation because they do not wish to have the formal legal ties of a marriage, including financial ties. For example, a person may lose eligibility for some federal income and health care benefits if they marry someone who has an income. Other couples may choose cohabitation because they are not legally permitted to marry. Lesbian couples, or couples where one partner is separated but not legally divorced, do not have marriage as an option.

Cohabitation can lead to a marital relationship in a small number of states. These states recognize what is called “common-law marriage” when people have lived together for a required time period and held themselves out as a married couple. Most states do not recognize common-law marriage.

Since cohabitation is not, in most cases, a marriage, the couple cannot use the divorce process to resolve issues in the event that they separate. Disputes over who can keep what possessions are often difficult. Because the law does not recognize cohabitation, a court would award property to the person who has title, such as the title holder to a car or piece of real estate. Often this leads to unfair results when both parties contributed to the purchase but only one has title.

People who cohabit can construct many legal ties that ordinarily come from marriage. They can have wills that leave possessions to each other. They can give each other a “power of attorney” which allows one person to make important decisions about health care or finances if the other is unable to do so. If the couple has children, the father can establish his legal relationship with the child.

SEE ALSO: Child custody, Divorce, Domestic partnership

Category: C