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Common-law marriages and domestic partnerships can get confusing because they seem to do the same thing. They are both legal formal relationship statuses, and they both are identified as two people who refer to themselves as spouses or partners, who are living together but not married in the traditional sense. Cohabitating couples may share responsibilities such as bills, groceries and other finances, but do they have the same protections and rights as a formally married couple?

What’s the difference between domestic partnerships and common law marriages?

A common-law marriage is when an unmarried couple lives together and portray themselves to family and friends as being married but have never had a formal ceremony or a marriage license. 11 states recognize common-law marriage. There are more requirements than just living together to be considered common-law, but they are different depending on the state.

A domestic partnership is an unmarried couple who live together and are interested in receiving many of same benefits that a married couple enjoys, such as health benefits. 11 states recognize domestic partnerships, but how they are recognized varies depending on the state.

Every state has its own right to define what a marriage is. If you enter into a domestic partnership or common-law marriage, it might not be recognized if you cross state borders.

If the state that you are living in supports common law marriage, you may be granted the same legal benefits of those who are married. That includes social security benefits, insurance benefits, pension and tax exemptions.

Domestic partnerships allow you to have shared health benefits, bereavement leave and visitation rights in hospitals and jails. However, since the union is not federally recognized, you are unable to claim your partner’s social security benefits.

The process for ending the relationship is the equivalent of getting a divorce.

Common-law marriage in most states is considered the same as a legal and binding formal marriage, and the process of getting a divorce is roughly the same. You will want to check with your county clerk on the divorce requirements because they can vary per state.

Not all states recognize domestic partnerships, and you can only terminate a domestic partnership in a state that does. The process for ending a domestic partnership is roughly the same as getting a divorce and the requirements to end a relationship can vary in each state that recognizes the union.

Domestic partnerships and common law marriages are similar in what they are, but when you look at the legal side of each, they really do have their differences when it comes to benefits and how each union is viewed in different states. If you need more information regarding the difference, Rocket Lawyer is here to help. Ask a lawyer your questions now.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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