What about common law marriage?
THE MYTH: There is a common misconception that if you live together for a certain length of time (seven years is what many people believe), you are common-law married. This is not true anywhere in the United States. It is extremely important for women to know their rights. Not just in relation to children, but in relation to their individual rights. Even if you shared a home with your partner for 15 years, and have several children together, if that relationship suddenly ends, you might find yourself without a home, unless there’s a contract in place.
Only 15 states recognize common law marriage. You can approach your attorney to help you draw up a simple document that gives you the same rights as a married woman, even if you’re not married. Do it for your peace of mind, and your children’s security.
IF YOU LIVE IN A STATE THAT DOES NOT RECOGNIZE COMMON LAW MARRIAGE, there is no way to form a common law marriage, no matter how long you live with your partner. There is one catch: if you spend time in a state that does recognize common law marriage, “hold yourself out as married,” and then return or move to a state that doesn’t recognize it, you are still married (since states all recognize marriages that occurred in other states). However, this is murky legal territory and we don’t recommend experimenting with it! In situations like these, the mother is entitled to approach district court for the area she lives in to claim support from the father of the child. The court will make an order for an appropriate amount.
Is common law marriage a good thing for those seeking a legal same sex marriage? Perhaps, but only if they reside in one of those states or are willing to move to one of them. While there are currently many states permitting the unions and many same sex couples are marrying in those states, it is not a large enough number of states that it will accommodate the majority or even half of the number of same sex couples seeking a legal marriage in the US. Should a government have the power to tell you who you can marry and who you cannot in this day and age? That is up to your own personal opinion, but with the changes being made to help these couples, it would not be surprising to see in the next few years the entire country permitting same sex marriages.
Domestic partnerships are not treated like marriage under federal law. In addition to state-wide registries, many towns and cities have domestic partner registries where domestic partners (defined differently in different places — most include all couples, but a few are limited to same-sex couples only) can sign an affidavit that they meet certain criteria, pay a small fee, and become “registered” domestic partners. Usually these registries offer no immediate benefits, but other entities — like employers or insurance companies — can, if they wish, rely on the registry’s information to decide who is eligible for domestic partner health benefits, different insurance rates, etc. To find out if your locality registers domestic partners, contact the local agency that issues marriage licenses.
We are unable to give legal advice on any personal situations. If you have additional questions about common law marriage in your state, seek the assistance of a lawyer.