In this day and age, many people live together long before getting hitched. Fortune Magazine published an article to inform people of the rights they are not entitled to as a partner in a non-documented relationship. But the lack of documented proof of legal unity should not hinder a cohabitating couple’s ability to have the same rights as married one.
This is not in reference to those high school students who move in with their older significant other or those college flings that do not last more than a month. This is about adults, not impulsive teens with roommates who think moving in together will be all sunshine and rainbows.
Not all couples want to get married. Some couples may feel they are not in the right place financially to get a marriage license or have a wedding, or, sometimes, couples just don’t get around to it. Then something bad happens. People never expect to be in a situation out of their control, but whether they would like to admit it or not, things happen, and it sucks when they can’t help their significant others just because they do not have legal documentation of their unity.
The only alternative to being a legally married couple would be for a couple to apply to be a documented domestic partnership, in which two people that are above the age of 18 and consent willingly to be jointly responsible for each other’s shelter, food and other basic necessities. In order to have a domestic partnership, the couple has to pay, apply and be granted legal partnership.
This is a great alternative to marriage because it allows couples to circumvent the hassles and cost of marriage documents and a wedding while still reaping the same benefits. Domestic partners receive insurance, health, parental leave and death benefits, amongst many other things. However, the fact of the matter is that domestic partnerships are not recognized in all 50 states. What happens to the couple who would like those benefits and are not permitted access to domestic partnership status due to their individual state laws?
Twenty states in the U.S. do not recognize domestic partnerships, and, out of the 30 that do, recognition and benefits vary depending on the city or county. For example, in Florida, only 9 out of 67 counties recognize domestic partnerships.
So for those whom a marriage or a domestic partnership do not protect, death, illness or financial crisis can be their worst nightmare. Because of the lack of documentation, the surviving partner will not have access to the deceased person’s possessions, estate or money. This is unfortunate for many cohabitating couples, especially if the partner who died was the breadwinner of the two; he or she could possibly lose his or her home and suffer financially. In some cases, a cohabitant will die, and, no matter how long he or she was with his or her partner, the partner’s belongings go to the next of kin, even if it is a relative who the deceased had not talked to in years.
There is also a big concern for children born to cohabitating couples. In the event that the two do split, there can be some difficulty regarding custody and financial support, whereas a married couple usually has some form of legal agreement on custody, belongings and financial support.
Cohabitating couples and married couples all go through the same struggles; they have debt, they have bills, they sometimes have children, they have tragedies, and, of course, they have the stress of maintaining a relationship. The legal system should not exclude cohabiting couples from having spousal rights because they do not have a marriage license.
The unity of marriage is a step that people take for various reasons, but deciding not to do it should not impede a couple’s rights. Many times, partners are closest to each other, and whether they’ve known each other for years or several months, their connection depends on the individual relationship, and the law shouldn’t monitor that.