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Marriage Alternatives: Legal Or Not?

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Traditional marriage is not going anywhere any time soon, but there are alternatives for couples who don't want to go that route. Cultural changes have allowed trends to emerge as society takes a more forgiving approach to those who decide to form a union without doing so legally. Read on to learn more about three alternatives to a traditional marriage.

Domestic Partnerships

For couples in long-term, committed relationships, domestic partnerships allow them to share some of the benefits of married couples without having to actually be married. Laws governing domestic partnerships have been around a while, but not all states recognize this form of union. In those states that do, couples enjoy the following rights:

  1. Medical rights – the right to make next-of-kin decisions about their partner's health
  2. Estate rights – the ability to inherit property on a par with that of the surviving spouse
  3. Insurance rights – coverage under a partner's health insurance plan

Common Law Marriages

This loosely formed relationship category is not as popular as it was in the past and more and more states are outlawing it. In the few states that still recognize common law unions, there are rules that must be followed. While many people consider common law marriage to be an easier way to form a relationship than a traditional marriage, there are several requirements to fulfill before a couple can claim to be in a common law marriage, such as:

  • Must declare to the community, their families, their place of worship, etc. that they consider themselves married.
  • Must be of age to be married in that state
  • Must not already be married to someone else, whether common law or traditionally

And more. 

It's important to note that people who are common law married cannot part legally without getting a traditional divorce.


With cohabitation, things could not be simpler. Couples can move in with each and leave anytime they wish with no need to file anything with the courts. Unfortunately, things are not as simple if they have children, joint debt, and own property together. While it may not be necessary to file for divorce, they will need to ask the courts to make decisions about some matters if they cannot make their own agreement. 

The parent who does not retain full custody of the child is entitled to visitation and will very likely be ordered to pay child support. If the couple had joint debts or property, the courts may have to order an equitable or community property division. Because of the potential for problems when the couple parts, some of them create cohabitation agreements that address issues like debt and property. Issues with minor-aged children, however, will not be recognized by the courts if included in a cohabitation agreement.

Regardless of the route you choose, heading off issues beforehand is key. Speak to your family law attorney about forming agreements and to learn more about any of the above issues.