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Common law what?

So here’s a nasty little tidbit about living together – common law marriage.  You can find yourself inadvertently married if you live together for a specific period of time and present yourselves to the world as husband and wife.  This might have been handy  in the old days when perhaps it could be a while before a judge or preacher became geographically available but these days it’s a scary proposition.

Check the regulations in your area as laws can vary between states and provinces.  Some require as little as 6 months cohabitation (although the standard seems to be approximately two years).  Some jurisdictions require less time if a child is involved (although not as one of the partners – that’s a completely different type of marriage).  Be aware that the laws that protect marriage partners do not always extend to common-law partners.

Be careful how you refer to your partner.  If you jokingly refer to your live-in boyfriend as your husband (or domestic partner or old ball and chain or…well, you get the idea), you may be giving the rest of the world the idea that you are married.  Remember what I was saying about keeping your finances separate?  You might not want to list him as your next of kin on any medical, legal, financial, or insurance documents.  Saving a few bucks now can cost you big later.

If one of the partners moves to get the “marriage” officially recognized by the court system (warning – this can occur even after separation), then an official dissolution of marriage will be required before either partner can get married again.  Also, with a dissolution of marriage comes a division of assets.  Did you get it in writing?

Even if the marriage isn’t officially recognized, your ex-partner can make life very difficult if he wishes to. You may end up in the court system as he tries to assert his rights to your assets or even your paycheck.  Play it safe.  Know the laws in your area and be smart about protecting yourself.

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