Common Law Marriage in NJ
Occasionally, our clients ask about so-called “common law marriage.” They’re concerned about whether they can “accidentally” be legally married if they live together for too long, or they wonder if they are entitled to any of the benefits of marriage if they’ve been together for long enough. While some states do recognize common law marriage, the answer in New Jersey is more complex. Read on to learn about common law marriage and related rules in New Jersey. If you have any questions, or if you have a matter concerning New Jersey family law, call a knowledgeable New Jersey family law and divorce attorney.
What Is Common Law Marriage?
A common law marriage occurs when the courts recognize a couple as legally married, even though they never went through the normal marital channels–having a wedding, signing the paperwork, etc. Whether common law marriage is recognized and how a couple may qualify as common law married differs by state.
In general, in states where it is recognized, a common law marriage occurs when a couple lives together and holds themselves out to the world as married for a sufficient period of time. In some states, common law marriage can even be unintentional. If a couple is common law married, then the spouses can benefit from things like insurance coverage and the right to make medical decisions for one another, as well as the divorce and family laws should the couple split.
New Jersey Does Not Recognize Common Law Marriage
Common law marriage varies by state. In New Jersey, common law marriage was explicitly eliminated back in 1939. Couples cannot establish a common law marriage under current law, even if they have been cohabitating and holding themselves out as married. As far as New Jersey law is concerned, you are not married until you sign on the dotted line and file your forms with the government.
New Jersey Will Recognize Common Law Marriages From Other States
New Jersey might not have its own common law marriage, but it will recognize an out-of-state common law marriage that meets the standards for a valid common law marriage in that state.
“Palimony” in New Jersey and Division of Assets
Although common law marriage is not recognized in New Jersey, there are certain legal tools that long-term couples can use to obtain some of the benefits of marriage, even without marrying. New Jersey will recognize so-called “palimony” agreements, which is essentially an agreement from one party to pay financial support to the other should the relationship end. They are called “palimony” agreements because the agreements sound a lot like post-divorce alimony.
Palimony is not guaranteed, however. New Jersey courts have cracked down on palimony agreements over the last decade, after the state passed a law in 2010 tying palimony agreements to the Statute of Frauds. Now, courts will only recognize such an agreement if it is made in writing and signed by both parties; a verbal promise to make such payments will likely not be enforceable.
Long-term cohabitants may also obtain some rights with regard to the separation of property. A couple can enter into a written agreement to dictate ownership of various assets possessed by the couple, such that they will have an enforceable right to ownership should the couple split up. Absent such a written agreement, parties can still sue one another for property ownership when they break up and move out, but the court has wide discretion and will base its decision on principles of equity rather than on the divorce statutes. Such a dispute would be handled in civil court (or small claims court), not family court.
Child Support Does Not Depend on Marriage
It’s important to note that while marriage carries many legal advantages, the right to collect child support is not one of them. Both parents are obligated to provide for the welfare of their children, whether married or otherwise. You can seek an order for child support from your child’s other parent, regardless of whether you are now or were ever married.
Call for Seasoned Legal Advice and Representation for Your New Jersey Family Law Dispute
If you have questions about divorce, a child support dispute, or other family law issues in New Jersey, contact the stellar family law attorney at the Law Office of John B. D’Alessandro in Union to discuss your concerns.