In the modern world, it is common and acceptable to have a “non-traditional” family structure. Many families operate without two parents, while others have same-sex parents. While these situations were once considered taboo, they are now completely normal and protected under the law.
If you and your partner are considering alternatives to marriage, it is important to understand the options available to you in California. There are many different legally recognized marriage alternatives that may work better for your situation than a traditional marriage scenario. Knowing your options allows you to make an empowered choice that is right for you, your partner, and your family.
Many people have heard about common law marriage and know about it in some capacity. The concept of common law marriage is that two people who are cohabiting and have been romantically involved for a certain amount of time can apply for common law marriage. Unfortunately, this system is not used very often and is not legally recognized in the state of California. Even if you and your partner have lived together for many decades, you do not get any of the legal rights allotted to married couples.
The exception to this is if you have established a common law marriage in another state. If this occurs, California will honor the other state’s standards. However, this still allots you very few, if any, rights. In no situation can you establish a common law marriage within the state of California.
If you and your partner were hoping to explore common law marriage in California, there are other options that the state does recognize. These options are great alternatives to a traditional marriage and give you some rights as well as significant freedoms.
The most common type of “alternative” partner arrangement is a domestic partnership. When you enter into a domestic partnership, you receive certain marriage benefits without the restrictions. Domestic partnerships began as an alternative for LGBTQ+ couples when marriage was not an option. Now, both marriage and domestic partnerships are open to couples of all genders and sexual orientations.
Benefits of a domestic partnership include:
Domestic partners can access these benefits without any marriage tax penalties. They can also separate without the lengthy process of divorce.
There are limitations to domestic partnerships. If you decide on a domestic partnership over marriage, you cannot:
Many people opt for a domestic partnership upon discovering that common law marriage is not an option in California.
Another option in California is a cohabitation agreement. These are much more flexible than domestic partnerships or marriages in the relationship between the people who obtain them. A cohabitation agreement can outline important information, such as who will get which assets if you stop living together, medical directives and decisions, and more. Cohabitation agreements are somewhat similar to prenuptial agreements, but without the necessity of getting married.
Cohabitation agreements are legally binding and are often used between romantic couples. However, platonic roommates and family members may create cohabitation agreements to set boundaries and outline what will happen if the cohabitation should end. This provides a level of comfort and stability without the pressure of a domestic partnership or marriage.
No, California neither recognizes nor grants common law marriages. However, if you obtain a common law marriage in one of the few states that still offers them, California will respect the agreement. However, common law marriage does not offer any benefits within California. Most people opt for a cohabitation agreement or a domestic partnership if they are considering common law marriage but live in a state that does not recognize it.
Couples do not receive any automatic rights in the state of California. To obtain rights for your relationship, you must enter into a domestic partnership. This is an alternative that does not involve marriage but offers some of the benefits of marriage. These include bereavement leave, family sick time, and potential access to health care benefits. However, unless you enter into a domestic partnership or get married, your relationship does not have any inherent rights.
There is no requirement for how long you and your partner must be together to be entitled to half of the marital property. Unless you have a prenuptial agreement, all your assets become shared marital property when you get married. If you divorce, the court divides marital property equally, meaning that you get half of everything, whether you were married for decades or mere months. This does not apply to domestic partnerships.
Spousal support is not guaranteed in any situation. However, if you have been married for 10 years or less, you can usually expect to get spousal support for approximately half the duration of your marriage. For example, if you are married for 4 years, you may be able to get spousal support for up to 2 years after your marriage ends. If you have been married for more than 10 years, you may be able to get spousal support indefinitely.
For many years, our team has been helping families navigate marriage, domestic partnerships, divorce, child custody, and all other family law issues. We have a passion for family law, and we work diligently to make sure that your family’s rights are always protected. If you are navigating a marriage or domestic partnership, it is important to have a law firm on your side. We are here to help.