Tag: Cohabitation

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Living with My Boyfriend, the House is in His Name. Who Gets the House if he Dies?

Happy family in front of houseA woman asks: I’ve been living with my boyfriend for 8 years. We live in a house here in Massachusetts that’s in his name only. We both work and I help pay the mortgage, the gas and electric, the cable and the food.  He has a 10 year old girl from his first marriage and she spends time with us and we even do things together like going on vacation to Disney World.

But, the deed to the house is still in his name only. I’m worried about what would happen to me if he died. Who would get that house? Would I be out in the street?

Does this sound familiar? It should because at The Living Together Law Center, I see this situation all the time.  Let’s break this state of affairs down and see where this woman stands.

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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).

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Living Together/Cohabiting , , , , , , , , ,

Living Together: Does Massachusetts Recognize Common Law Marriage?

All across the United States people of all ages are making a choice to live together in a long-term, committed relationship. Some simply call it “living together.” Some call it “cohabiting.” Lately the term “domestic partnership” has become more popular particularly in same-sex relationships.

For all intents and purposes, many of these cohabiting couples, whether heterosexual or same-sex, act like a married couple. They share bank accounts. They buy property together. They make major decisions together. They may even be raising children together.

However, technically they are not married because they haven’t had the official marriage ceremony.

There is a common belief that if you live together for 7 years, then you are married by “common law.”  This is simply not accurate. Only a few states recognize “common law marriage.  And, Massachusetts is not one of them. (The closest state to us that does is Rhode Island).

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How Do We Define the “New American Family?”

Not long ago, the traditional American family typically consisted of a husband, a wife and two to three kids (think “Leave it to Beaver”). But, the growing incidence of separation, divorce, remarriage and unmarried hetero and same-sex couples living together with kids has changed the landscape of how we as a culture define a family.

Noted Indiana University sociologist, Brian Powell, set out to determine how Americans’ definition of what constitutes a family has changed over the last decade. Not surprisingly, what he found was that we’ve been moving away from the traditional “Leave it to Beaver” idea of family to arrive at a view of the “New American Family” which comes in many different forms.

Powell’s findings revealed that almost 100% of people consider a husband, wife and kids as a family. Yet, he also found that over 83% of people consider cohabiting heterosexual couples with kids to be a family and that now over two-thirds of Americans agree that same-sex couples with kids are a family.

Take the kids away from the “family equation” and those percentages drop drastically. For example, only 39% of people consider a cohabiting hetero couple with no kids to be a family even though that cohabiting couple might consider themselves a family.

In the end, though, when it comes to defining a family all that may matter is how people view their own living arrangements. Whether you’re a traditional family, blended family, domestic partnership or single parent, over 60% of people now agree that if you consider yourself a family, then you are a family.

Regardless of how it’s defined, the “New American Family” faces many different legal issues in this day and age. From designating health care agents, to drafting wills that protect everyone, to choosing guardians for kids, all families are faced with these challenges.  So like the old program “All in the Family,” our blog is dedicated to tackling the legal issues facing our New American Family.