Legal Considerations for Unmarried Couples: Rights and Responsibilities

There is a common misconception among cohabitating couples that their rights and responsibilities are the same as married couples.

They do have rights and responsibilities, but there are some key differences. Continue reading to learn more about some important legal considerations for unmarried couples. 

Understanding Common-Law Marriage 

Some states, including the state of Kansas, recognize common-law marriage. Common law marriage is when the couple lives together without participating in a formal ceremony or without obtaining a formal marriage license. A common-law marriage grants the unmarried couple some rights; however, they must be eligible to marry and must agree to the terms of the relationship. They must also consent to be married and fulfil their roles as expected of a spouse. 

Legal Status

Married couples have greater legal protection as they have a recognized legal status. The relationship of a married couple is more formal, offering more legal protection. However, an unmarried couple can formalize some aspects of their relationship by drawing up legal agreements such as a cohabitation agreement. This agreement can help formulate different aspects of the relationship, such as financial obligations and property division. 

If a common law marriage has been established, unmarried couples have the same rights as married couples, including the right to inherit property or access health care benefits. In some states, there is a cohabitation requirement where the couple has to live together continuously; however, no such requirement exists in Kansas. 

Taxes 

The unmarried couple cannot file taxes jointly as there is no legal status or category for that. Each partner must file taxes as a single or head of household. In some cases, the unmarried couple can claim the other as a dependent for deductions, but it is best to check with a tax consultant. 

Children 

If the unmarried couple has children, they add more complexity to the situation. Each partner has the right to seek custody of the child and visitation rights in a separation. They are also legally obligated to provide financial support for the child or children. Each parent must comply with court orders on all matters related to child support, parenting arrangements, and custody. This is regardless of whether they are married or not, or whether they have established a common-law marriage. 

Consult with a Family Law Attorney 

While unmarried couples don’t have the same legal rights as married couples, they can create similar legal protections through an agreement or by democratizing their relationship to qualify for common-law marriage. 

The unmarried couple can use the power of attorney to grant their partner authority to act on their behalf. Similarly, they can have cohabitation agreements to establish property rights or use a healthcare directive to provide their partner with authority to make important decisions related to healthcare. An experienced family lawyer can guide you on your rights and responsibilities as an unmarried couple and if necessary, they can assist you in drafting an agreement to establish legal protection. 

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