Does California Have Common Law Marriage?

Some of the longest and healthiest romantic relationships do not involve partners tying the knot and getting married. Some might even ask, why attempt to fix what isn’t broken? That’s all well and good, so long as the couples are happy and contented with their lives.

But do they have the same rights as married couples?

California does not have common-law marriage. Very few states do, in fact (those with some version of common-law marriage include Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington DC). Unmarried couples who live together in California fall under the legal umbrella of ‘cohabitation.’

A new law in California allows cohabitating romantic couples to file to be known as a domestic partnership. While this law affords couples similar rights to married couples, the law is only recognized within California. If the domestic partners leave the state, they may lose the rights they held in California. Similarly, an immigrant cannot achieve legal status in the US b joining a domestic partnership the same way that they could if they got married.

How Does California State Law Treat Unmarried Couples Who Parent Children Together?

In the event that a couple separates, if they have children together, they will both be held responsible for raising their children. Regardless of marital status, the courts want to look out for a child’s needs first and foremost. The matters of child custody and child support must be determined in court.

The most significant difference between married and unmarried couples with kids is that, after a separation, unmarried couples will need to prove paternity. This can be achieved through a mutual agreement or via medical tests. If a man in a relationship, for example, is not actually the natural father of a child from a previous relationship, then he would not be legally responsible for paying child support.

What Rights Do Unmarried Couples Have Over Each Other’s Finances?

In the state of California, unmarried couples have no shared bank accounts, investments, or savings accounts. If there is a breakup, each individual’s finances remain their own.

Alimony is not required after the end of an unwed relationship. If the couple works out payments between themselves after the relationship ends, that is up to the individuals.

However, if children result from the partnership, child support will likely be required (except in some rare circumstances).

What Happens to Shared Property if an Unmarried Partnership Ends?

If a single person owned a piece of property, then that person shall have sole ownership after a partnership split.

If a sizeable property or asset were co-owned between the two partners, it would be divided equally after the end of their partnership.

Property with no paper trail to prove co-ownership presents a more significant challenge. One partner must prove that the property was co-owned. Working with a lawyer and taking the matter to court may be necessary.

What is a Cohabitation Property Agreement?

Like a marriage’s prenuptial agreement, an unmarried couple can outline a mutually understood cohabitation property agreement. This will be a legal contract that can stand up in court so that neither partner can claim that a piece of property is theirs and theirs alone.

If you are planning to draft a cohabitation agreement, consider the following:

  • Budgetary concerns, such as shared finances and what money will be spent on while the relationship is ongoing. This can cover bills, vacations, holidays, etc.
  • Guardianship determinations in case one party becomes incapacitated and cannot make decisions for themselves.
  • Plans to divide real estate property and other significant assets if a relationship ends. This property may include homes, cars, boats, and motorcycles but can also extend to personal valuables like collectibles, art, and jewelry.
  • Stated plan for who will handle finances, particularly if any financial holdings are not legally shared by both parties, but the partner wishes to share that responsibility on a personal level.

If you would like assistance drafting a comprehensive cohabitation agreement, many family law lawyers can provide legal guidance. Though comprehensive property agreements do not receive the attention of prenups, they are helpful for partnerships that have not and do not plan to get married. Asking for legal advice can be valuable and worthwhile.

Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney to Discuss Your Questions and Concerns

Not everyone plans to get married, even if they feel that they have found the person they want to live with for the rest of their lives. And that is entirely up to those individuals; it should not be judged negatively. While unmarried couples do not have all the same rights as their married counterparts, some ways exist to protect their rights and personal assets better. If you have any questions about how to defend your interests and those of your partner, we advise you to speak with an experienced family law attorney.

At The Law Office of Patrick O’Kennedy, our legal team provides our clients with compassionate, dedicated legal services. We can help assist you with asset protection, child support, mediation, and drafting your cohabitation agreements.

Our law firm offers prospective new clients with a free case evaluation. If you’d like to discuss your case and see if we can help you meet your needs, please contact us at (714) 919-1855.