Common Law Marriage Myth & Cohabitation Agreements


A common myth is that if you live with someone for seven years you automatically create a common law marriage. Common law marriage occurs when a couple lives together for a certain number of years, hold themselves out as husband and wife, and intend to be married.

Washington State law does not allow common law marriage. This means the State will not establish or create a common law marriage. It will, however, recognize such marriages created in other states.

A common law marriage can also not be created in Oregon. However,  Oregon will recognize a common law marriage from another state as valid if the couple later moves to Oregon.

California abolished common law marriage in 1895.

In today’s times, marriage is less and less common, as an increasing number of couples agree to live together rather than marry. As this occurs, attorneys are seeing more and more cases involving break-ups leading to the courtroom.

According a survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), 45% of members found that legal disputes between unmarried couples who had previously lived together have been on the rise during the past three years. A quarter of the members cited an increase in cohabitation agreement requests from unmarried couples.

It is important to remember that not being married does not prevent a partner from attempting to make a claim on your assets once a live-in relationships ends. Even without marriage, a growing number of live-in relationships are producing a wide range of legal complexities that may require involvement of legal counsel.

If cohabiting partners do not have a mutual understanding of their financial obligations to one another while they cohabitate, and at the time it ends by separation or death, legal consequences may lead to financial devastation and/or complete frustration for one of the partners.

Before moving in with a partner, a previously signed cohabitation agreement can serve as an effective tool. It can ensure that your finances and assets are adequately protected.

Often unmarried cohabitants put their labor and money into a live-in relationship, many of which are long in duration. They do this because they ultimately expect they will receive benefits from the other party arising from the commitment to be in a long term relationship. In many cases, those expectations are dashed when the relationship ends without the benefit of a cohabitation agreement.

Common law marriage in the United States can still be contracted in the District of Columbia and nine states in the US: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

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