There are many different relationship statuses and each one can affect your legal responsibilities in multiple ways. The rights that you have in terms of your personal assets can vary depending on your legal marital status.
Through assessing your legal relationship status, you can gain a better understanding of your obligations and determine the documents that may be of use to you in a current or future relationship.
As a single person, you are not legally bound to anyone—unless you have a dependent. You can be considered as single if you have never been married, were married but then divorced, or have lost your spouse. It is possible to be single at multiple times in your life.
Roommates are two or more people who share a short-term residential dwelling and are not involved in a romantic relationship. Roommates can can be single or involved in other relationships that are independent from the roommate dynamic.
Legal Rights: Depending on your rental situation, and the agreement with your landlord and co-tenants, your responsibilities and rights may differ. The personal assets you acquire before and during your tenancy remain your own, and your roommates have no rights to your personal income, possessions, etc.
A Roommate Agreement covers things such as individual responsibilities, rent payments, and the division of any utilities or bills. The agreement can protect you from conflict by providing clauses for things such as quiet hours, guest allowances, and personal property limitations.
The financial aspects of roommate agreements, if properly executed, are legally binding. The terms that involve personal negotiations about space or noise are not. Although you can include a variety of personal preferences and negotiations, you can’t include any terms that infringe on the legal rights of any parties.
Cohabitants are two people who are living in the same house with the intention to do so long-term. It is usually, but not always, a romantic relationship.
Legal Rights: Your rights as a cohabitant or life partner will generally be different than rights of couples who are married or who have entered into a civil union. You may be required to provide support or share assets with your partner in the event of a separation. Your debts, assets, and possessions from prior to the relationship continue to be your responsibility. Cohabitant agreements are similar to prenuptial agreements, but for couples who are not married and do not intend to be in the near future.
Cohabitation Agreements cover property, possessions, debts, and even support and estate issues (should the relationship end). They keep your finances separate and also outline the financial responsibilities of each party.
Couples who do not have Cohabitation Agreements do not have any rights to property, spousal support, or children in the event of a separation. Many jurisdictions recognize Cohabitation Agreements as enforceable contracts as long as they have been signed by both parties.
Generally, Cohabitation Agreements are considered to be invalid if they include illegal or intimate terms.
Common Law/De Facto
A common law or de facto relationship consists of two people in a romantic relationship who have been living together and meet the designated legal requirements to be considered married under common law.
Legal Rights: Your rights will vary depending on your jurisdiction and the laws surrounding common law relationships where you live. In some places, common law is very similar to marriage in almost all legal aspects. In other places, your rights may be limited.
In the United States, common law marriage is only valid in some states. However, all of the states that do not permit common law marriage will recognize it if it was contracted in a state that allows it.
Some states that previously recognized common law marriage do not any longer. In those states, the common law marriage is still recognized if it was enacted prior to a certain date.
For example, in Georgia, common law marriage was recognized up until January 1st, 1997. If you and your spouse became a common law couple prior to that date, Georgia would still recognize your legal relationship status.
Common law marriage is always recognized for federal tax purposes if the couple lives in a state that allows it.
A Common Law Agreement is essentially the same as a cohabitation agreement, except that to have a Common Law Agreement, you must be involved in a long-term romantic relationship with the second party.
An engagement is when two people involved in a romantic relationship intend to be married.
Legal Rights: If you are already living in a common law or de facto relationship, or you have a cohabitation agreement, your rights would not change. If you are not living with your partner until you are married, your status would continue as single until you are married. You may want to consider a Prenuptial Agreement prior to your wedding in order to protect your personal assets.
Prenuptial agreements include terms to divide assets and debts, personal properties and businesses, and personal investments and finances. The couple decides what assets will be shared and what assets will remain separate.
Prenups cannot include terms that are unfair, illegal, or intimate. If they do, you risk voiding the contract either in part or in its entirety. If a prenup is voided, the state typically becomes involved and divides your assets.
In the United States, there are two types of divorce states (community and equitable distribution). If you are American, you may want to look into your own state’s divorce laws to see how assets are divided up by the court.
A marriage is when two people involved in a romantic relationship participate in a legal wedding ceremony.
Legal Rights: The rights of legally married couples depend on the location in which the couple was married, and the location in which they divorce. Generally, law covers division of property, assets, debts, alimony/spousal support, and any decisions involving children.
Marriage offers many advantages including spousal and health benefits from employers, and income and property tax perks. Each partner becomes the next-of-kin to the other in case of an emergency and would receive bereavement leave in the event of the other partner’s death. Married couples are able to file joint tax returns, bankruptcy applications, and complete tax-free transfers of properties.
Other benefits include the right to make medical decisions for a spouse, the right to inheritance of property, and spousal privilege in court. In the event of a divorce, benefits include rights to children, child support, shared property and alimony/spousal support.
Depending on where you live, people involved in same-sex marriages can receive the same legal rights and benefits as those in heterosexual marriages.
Separation is when two people who were previously married have decided to end their relationship.
Legal Rights: Couples who have decided to separate have the option to divide their assets, properties, and debts prior to formalizing the end of the relationship in court. To do so, they would use a Separation Agreement.
Separation Agreements encourage couples to divide their assets, debts, and responsibilities to children together instead of letting the court decide.
They include terms regarding:
- and other financial divisions
They also include terms about child support and alimony as well as custody and visitation.
By creating a Separation Agreement before taking your case to court, you allow each side to be treated fairly and to negotiate the things that each party would like to take responsibility for. Since different states divide assets and debts differently, a Separation Agreement will help to avoid unfair treatment to either side.
A divorce or dissolution is when people who were once married or in a civil union have completed the legal separation process by ending their relationship in a court of law.
Legal Rights: After the divorce or dissolution, your relationship status returns to single and you maintain the rights that you had prior to the relationship, barring any properties, assets, and debts that were negotiated during the divorce or dissolution.
If you had a Prenuptial Agreement, you would maintain any assets that you included in the contract prior to your marriage.
The term “dissolution” is used when couples who were part of a civil union choose to part ways.
Second marriage is when someone who has previously been married and divorced enters into their second marriage.
Legal Rights: Your legal rights in a second marriage are almost always identical to your rights during your first marriage, unless you have a Prenuptial Agreement.
A Prenuptial Agreement is important in a second marriage because you may have accrued assets, debts, and property from your previous marriage. You might be responsible for child support or alimony payments that you would want to keep separate from your second partner’s finances or vice versa.