(Guest post regarding family law and cohabitation in the US)
It seems that marriage has lost some of its luster over the last decade. More couples are making the decision to live together rather than get married. It could be the close to 50 percent divorce rate that makes matrimony seem like a risky venture, or people are deciding that there are some attractive advantages to cohabitating. Since 1990, there has been a 138 percent increase in couples choosing to live together. Something has changed.
Now, cohabitation has its perks, but marriage does too, and there are some complicated legal issues surrounding cohabitation that don’t come with a marriage license. There are laws set up to specifically decide issues surrounding money, property, family, and estates for married people in the event of divorce or death. There are a host of issues that cohabitating couple will be forced to address on their own throughout the relationship.
The Realities of Marriage and Cohabitation
While marriage has been a long-held tradition in the U.S., there can be real financial burdens if a spouse becomes ill. Unfortunately, in many cases, a married person will not qualify for Medicaid. The combined income will usually put them over the financial threshold to get assistance, and both spouses will be responsible for mounting medical bills and liabilities. Marriage can also mean that you will generally lose some of your financial aid opportunities if you want to return to school. Married people might see some significant tax increases or some tax benefits, depending on their situation. A look at compiled studies on marriage in the New York Times revealed a finding that showed that women often lose earning power and assume more responsibility for housework when married.
Even with all those problems, marriage offers legal protections not found in cohabitation. For instance, if your living partner becomes ill, you will not be in charge of their health decisions unless you are legally designated prior to the incident. You will have no say in how their life ends, or what happens to their things. If you purchase property or a home together, you will need to have rock-solid legal documents drawn up to protect both parties in the event of separation. When you file your taxes, who claims the children as dependents? There are legal obstacles to cohabitation, but they are not insurmountable. They do require hiring an experienced attorney, a lot of forethought and maturity, and the desire to address all these issues upfront.
Making the Decision
Most people choose to live together for multiple reasons. There is no one thing that keeps them from tying the knot. Some people don’t feel marriage is necessary for them. They feel that it is asking the government to sanction their relationship. One recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found little difference in the level of satisfaction enjoyed by married couple and couples that live together. The quality of the relationship was the biggest indicator of happiness. In fact, they found that some couples who lived together found it to be a better fit during certain parts of their life due to increased freedom and independence.
While legal issues should not dictate anyone’s choice to get married, there are significant legalities to look at. Every couple would be wise to take these into account when making their decision. It is important to remember that a marriage license encompasses about five different, important legal contracts between two people.
About the author
This piece was contributed by Stephen Leary, a freelance writer who often focuses on love, relationships and other related topics. Legal issues pertaining to cohabiting couples will become increasingly poignant as cohabitation increases; for those who personally need assistance with such issues view Denton divorce attorney.