PARSIPPANY, N.J., Jan. 12, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Wedding bells don't ring as frequently as they used to, according to Census data that shows the number of couples opting to cohabit rather than marry has more than doubled since the 1990s. But when live-in couples choose to skip the formal bonds of marriage, there can be confusion about the legal status of their relationship. Most notably: Does living together as committed partners somehow trigger the protections of common law marriage?
"When two partners live together for a long time—seven years as the story usually goes—they can mistakenly think they are in a 'common law' marriage, with all the same rights as a married couple. In New Jersey, this is a myth," explains family law expert and certified matrimony attorney, Bari Z. Weinberger.
In a new article published in the New Jersey Law Journal, "Common Misunderstandings About Common Law Marriage," Weinberger describes the unfortunate surprise that can be in store when longtime cohabiting partners end their relationship and attempt to enforce "common law" marital property rights, only to discover that New Jersey does not offer these protections.
According to Weinberger, "Common law marriage was once prevalent in the United States when the country was rural and traveling to a government office to obtain a marriage license was difficult. Today, only a very small handful of states still offer some kind of common law status, and New Jersey is NOT one of them. The state legislature actually outlawed the formation of common law marriages in 1939."
Marital rights may be off the table, but Weinberger clarifies that unmarried couples in New Jersey do have other legal options that can help bridge the gap. These include setting up written "palimony agreements" that prescribe financial support paid by one partner to the other should the relationship end, similar to alimony. "Palimony can be especially important if one partner gave up their career to care for the kids, or for some other reason, or there is a large disparity in income between partners," she notes.
Another option is a "cohabitation agreement" that spells out what happens to property the couple jointly acquires during their relationship, including real estate, furniture, and even pets. When a couple has children, custody and support arrangements are determined separately. "Whether you are married and unmarried, parents have rights to their children, and children have rights to be supported," Weinberger explains.
Can a case for common law marriage ever be made in New Jersey? In one notable exception, yes. "New Jersey recognizes marriages formed in other states, including common law marriages…so if the couple ever lived in a common law marriage state, and then moved to New Jersey, they may have a claim," says Weinberger. Convincing the courts that a common law marriage existed can be difficult, however.
In one recent case before the New Jersey courts, for example, a long-term couple's two-week trip to Texas — where common law marriage is legal — was argued to be the equivalent of traveling to Las Vegas for a quickie marriage. While novel, this claim was rejected.
"When you are unmarried and plan to stay that way, your best option is to look into palimony and other partnership and cohabitation agreements…and get them in writing. It can bring you greater peace of mind in your relationship, and should your relationship end, you won't be in for any surprises because your future will be secured. It's the best of both worlds," advises Weinberger.
Bari Z. Weinberger
+1 (888) 888-0919
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SOURCE Weinberger Law Group