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Common Law Marriage: Not As Common as Living Together

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By Neetal Parekh on July 16, 2009 12:55 PM

Moving In: A Stop on the Way to Breaking Up?

A recent study from the University of Denver concludes that that couples who move in together without the commitment of marriage have a higher chance of divorcing than couples who live together after getting engaged or married. 

To add insult to injury, the study-- which was published this week in the Journal of Family Psychology-- found that couples who did get married after an initial shacking-up period reported a lower satisfaction with marriage.   Besides giving wedded bliss a whole new meaning, are there any legal implications for unmarried move-in and potential move-out?

A couple living together is just that... a couple. A couple of roommates, a couple of friends, a couple of people living together.  Generally no matter how long a couple has cohabited or what they own together or share together lends legal rights in light of an un-coupling-- where the couple did not intend marriage.  But, you may wonder about that vague term you've heard tossed around conveniently in a sitcom or tag-line... what about "common law marriage" ?   

Common law marriage is a state-dictated recognition of marriage without the presence of an actual marriage license.  Each of the states that do recognize common law marriage have their own rules as to what satisfies the threshold-- making this grey area all the more murky.  Generally, the states require an agreement to marry and some states also require cohabitation and/or holding out as a married couple.  To complicate the issue further, states that do not recognize common law marriage on their own, may recognize a common law marriage that was valid in a state that does recognize this nebulous connection.  In sum, common law marriage is a bit of a misnomer since it is not commonly recognized by states and its requirements are not necessarily common in the states that do recognize it.

This study could be disheartening considering that a reported 70% of couples in the U.S. who try living together before marriage, but if there is safety in numbers then continue to live together and be merry-- and if you actually want to be married, then off to city hall for a license!

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