Most states have laws in place to protect the rights of couples who have chosen to live together without getting married. These laws vary from state to state and deal with a variety of different scenarios.
In general, couples are free to live together or “cohabitate” and still retain their individual rights. Breakups do not typically require a court order and both parties can leave the relationship at any time without further obligation.
The drawback is that this casual relationship does not give couples the right to make medical decisions for their partner nor does it allow them to assume a partner’s estate in the event of death. For couples seeking more security, a contract may be required to ensure that they are protected in the future.
It should be noted that such a contract may not be recognized by the court if it deals with a same-sex relationship. While many other countries have registered domestic partnerships and civil unions to protect the rights of same-sex couples, very few states in the U.S. have adopted such a law.
However, many states do have laws that provide for couples who live together as if they were married, even though no formal ceremony has taken place. Commonly known as “common-law marriages,” parties who live together and behave as a married couple can often assume the same rights and benefits of couples who have walked down the aisle. For this reason, couples wishing to avoid any future legal or financial disputes should take extra care to keep their finances separate and implement written contracts that clearly define the extent of their obligations.