Sorry Al Bundy, but when it comes to love and marriage, you can have one without other.
For many young couples, marriage is no longer a prerequisite to living together or starting a family. However, there are some legal issues that are unique to those who choose to forego marriage and just skip to the happily ever after.
Here are five things to be aware of if you're planning on living with your partner and child(ren), but without getting married:
- You may want to consider a cohabitation agreement. Cohabitation agreements are contracts that legally establish how you will handle property, assets, and even pet custody and other issues related to your living situation in the event that either you or your partner decide to move out of a shared living space.
- Know what "joint tenancy"/"tenancy in common" means. If you are buying property with your partner, you may want to consider owning it as joint tenants or as tenants in common. In both situations, multiple owners have a separate interest in the property. The most significant difference between the two occurs upon the death of one of the owners: In joint tenancy, the ownership interest of the deceased joint tenant passes to the surviving tenant or tenants. In a tenancy in common, the ownership interest belongs to the estate of the deceased person.
- Make sure you've established paternity. A child's maternity is typically established when the child is born (although the use of gestational surrogates and egg donors may make things somewhat more opaque than it once was). But establishing paternity for the child of an unmarried couple can also be important for several legal reasons, including: the right to access personal information about the known health risks of the paternal family, the right to sue for harm or death of the father, and eligibility to receive workers' compensation benefits or other dependent-based governmental assistance.
- Housing discrimination still exists. Unfortunately, not everyone is accepting of different types of families. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on several grounds -- including race, religion and the presence of children -- but not marital status. If a potential landlord doesn't like the idea of renting to an unmarried couple, unless a state or local law says otherwise, you may have no legal recourse.
- Inheritance issues can get tricky. If either you or your partner dies without a will, the laws of intestacy (which are the rules for how property passes when someone dies without a will) often do not recognize unmarried partners, meaning your or your partner's property could potentially pass to a relative, no matter how distant or far-removed. This may also be another good reason to establish paternity of any child born to an unmarried couple.
Unmarried couples may not have had to plan a wedding, but they should definitely spend a little time planning for their future. To make sure you (and your family) are legally protected, it may be wise to consult an experienced family law attorney near you.