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Massachusetts Does Not Recognize Common Law Marriage

US Supreme CourtMassachusetts does not recognize the doctrine of “common law” marriage. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve lived together, it could be 7 years or 70 years, you cannot have a marriage under common law in Massachusetts. This is true for both heterosexual couples and same sex couples.

Only a limited number of states in the United States recognize common law marriage – nearby Rhode Island happens to be one of them. Generally, though, in those states that do recognize common law marriage it isn’t the number of years living together that matters, it’s usually the “intent” of the couple. They must intend to be considered to be married, they must act like they are married in the community, and they must live together (the length of time usually doesn’t matter).

If you do live in a state that recognizes common law marriage and you break up, then the laws of divorce in that state will control the breakup. In a state like Massachusetts that doesn’t recognize common law marriage, when a couple breaks up the divorce laws DON’T apply.

So when a cohabiting couple breaks up in Massachusetts are there no rules that govern the division of the couple’s affairs?  Massachusetts courts have adopted the view that unmarried cohabitants may lawfully contract concerning property, financial, and other matters that affect their relationship. Couples can execute “cohabitation agreements” which are written contracts that will outline how matters are handled if the couple breaks up or if a partner dies.

Since most cohabitants don’t write cohabitation agreements, but probably have more oral promises about what to do if they split up, courts have to address the division of the couple’s affairs in different ways. Generally, courts will enforce oral agreements between cohabitants, but the problem that most couples face is how to prove the terms of any oral contract.

More and more people are living together in committed relationships, but there are complex issues that affect their rights and responsibilities. Look for my soon-to-be-released book on cohabiting in Massachusetts, but if you would like to consult with an attorney about your living-together arrangements contact Andrew Garcia at Phillips Garcia Law.

16 comments on “Massachusetts Does Not Recognize Common Law Marriage

  1. My friend is gay. His partner was 26 when he started dating him when he was 16.
    He has thrown him out. Does have any rights.

    1. Lenda thank you for your comment. There are a lot of complexities in your questions. Your friend’s rights depend a lot on what state they were living in and what agreements they may, or may not, have had during their relationship. Your friend should consult with an attorney who has an understanding of the laws and cases concerning cohabiting couples. Again, thank you for your comment and inquiry.

  2. Good Morning, I have lived with my girlfriend for 11-12 years in her home. I don’t have any financial interest in the house, my names not on the deed/mortgage. We don’t have any shared bank accounts and I pay a rent check to her every month that covers 1/2 the mortgage, food utilities etc. I make almost twice what she does. We have made it know to our friends and co-workers we never would get married. If we split, on my doing – can she come after me for money in any way ?

  3. Hi I have a Question? I was with my soon to be husband for 18 years,. We had a child and also filed taxes together and now we are no longer together. Do I need to get a divorce before I get married to someone else

  4. What is the name of the book on cohabiting in Massachusetts, the author and when will it be out.?? I am soon to be living with my boyfriend in Massachusetts and would like to know my rights if any as we r not going to get married . Thank you

  5. my daughter has been living with the same man also had 2 children with her they have recently went their separate ways he made her move wouldn’t even let her take the children’s bedroom furniture and kids electronics also said he wouldn’t pay childsupport . what can or could she do ?

  6. me again they also purchased a home , boat , and cars together , he has secret accounts that she not suppose to know about im just trying to help her find out what her rights are and what can she do thank you.

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  13. Hi i have question i live with same man over nine years and we’re bough twos home one on his name only one both us name now we’re sole all house and he’s defense me over for custy child support on then what’s can i do.

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