Demystifying Common Law Marriage Misconceptions in NJ

Understanding The Legal Rights of Unmarried Couples in New Jersey is Vital, Especially Since Common Law Marriage is No Longer in Existence in the State.

Does Common Law Marriage Exist in NJ?Common law marriage is a concept that many Americans have heard of but are often unfamiliar with the criteria for. While the exact requirements vary between states that recognize common law marriage, the unofficial institution usually recognizes common law marriages between couples who live together, intend to be married, and hold themselves out to be married. This legal concept provides an avenue for couples to receive some of the same legal and financial benefits of marriage, even without a formal marriage license or certificate. Common law marriage is not actually recognized in most states. Only Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah currency recognize common law marriage. New Jersey does not. In New Jersey, a couple must obtain a marriage license and participate in a formal ceremony to be legally married, or they can enter into a domestic partnership.

So, how are the rights of unmarried couples handed in NJ if common law marriage is not recognized? This is a very important question, as more than 12% of all New Jersey households are comprised of unmarried couples. It is imperative that these couples, who are not protected by marriage laws or the legal concept of common law marriage in New Jersey, understand their legal rights in the event of a breakup, especially if they share children or assets with their significant other.

New Jersey’s Stance on “Almost” Married

Some individuals who specifically desire to remain unmarried may worry that certain choices they make and the way they operate their romantic relationships could render them accidentally legally married.  However, in New Jersey, you cannot accidentally become legally married. In fact, even if you intended to get married but did not do so properly, New Jersey law will consider the marriage invalid. Under New Jersey statutory law, if a marriage happened prior to December 1, 1939, but without a license, the marriage is still considered valid. However, any “marriage” that occurred after that date must have a marriage license and have been performed by someone who is qualified to officiate weddings in order to be valid.

Legal Advantages of Formal Marriages in New Jersey

Marriage provides many distinct legal benefits, including inheritance, health care decisions, spousal support, property rights, and tax benefits. However, as common law marriages are not recognized in New Jersey, an unmarried couple is at a significant disadvantage in their legal rights.

Alimony or spousal support, for example, is not available to unmarried individuals following a breakup. A concept similar to alimony is “palimony” wherein the parties agree to provide some form of ongoing financial support to the other. However, in 2010, New Jersey law was amended to require that any such agreements be in writing and signed by the party promising to make the palimony payments. The validity and enforceability of these arrangements is still very much in question depending on the specific situation.

Unmarried couples are also not entitled to equitable distribution of assets in the event of a breakup like a married couple. Because common law marriage is not recognized in New Jersey, this is true even if the couple lived together for 20 years. That does not mean, however, that assets which are legally held jointly cannot be divided. If a couple owned a home as joint tenants or tenants in common, they can sell the home and divide the proceeds according to their ownership interest, or they can petition the court to force a sale of the property.

Our Family Lawyers Explain the Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in New Jersey Inheritance is another area where unmarried couples in New Jersey can potentially lose out. When a married spouse dies without a will in New Jersey, their assets will go to their surviving spouse under New Jersey’s intestate laws. However, if the couple is unmarried, then the individual’s assets would go to their children or, if they do not have any children, to their parents. A hierarchy of next of kin for inheritance is outlined in New Jersey law. If you wish to remain unmarried but want your partner to inherit some or all of your assets, then you must execute a will that delineates these wishes.

Child Support Considerations for Long-Standing Couples

In New Jersey, child support payments are calculated based on a formula. Whether the parents of the child(ren) are married or unmarried is immaterial for purposes of determining the correct child support obligation or payment amount. The primary concern is the best interests of the child, and this remains regardless of the marital status of the child’s parents. As such, unmarried parents have equal rights to petition for child support from their child’s other parent as a married parent has during or after a divorce.

Hire our Experienced Brick Attorneys to Assess Your Marriage vs. Unmarried Options in New Jersey

Navigating a breakup or other issues in your relationship can be challenging, especially when you are unmarried. An experienced family law attorney at Bronzino Law Firm can provide you with critical guidance around issues like asset division, palimony, and child support. From identifying how assets can be effectively and equitably distributed outside of a divorce proceeding to ensuring that your child is awarded the monetary support they are entitled to, a New Jersey family lawyer at our Ocean and Monmouth County firm can help. To set up a free consultation to discuss the specific facts involved in your case in Sea Bright, Lavallette, Rumson, Point Pleasant, Bay Head, Barnegat, or elsewhere in Southern New Jersey, please contact us today at (732) 812-3102 or contact us online today.