In today's landscape, not everyone wants to get married, both for personal and logistical reasons. That's why some people choose cohabitation before marriage. Cohabitation offers many partners an alternative way to solidify their union without legally tying the knot, which is a reason why some couples may prefer cohabitation to marriage. Our cohabitation lawyers will explain cohabitation rights in NJ and the difference between cohabitation vs marriage.
What Is Cohabitation?
According to cohabitation laws in New Jersey, cohabitation is a "mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or a civil union."
There is no way to "formalize" cohabitation. If you wish to share certain legal benefits with your partner, such as the tax breaks or medical care provisions commonly associated with marriage, you must either be married to each other, engage in a domestic partnership, or common law marriage in NJ. However, since opposite-sex individuals under the age of 62 cannot have a domestic partnership with each other, younger opposite-sex couples must typically legalize their union via marriage if they wish to receive legal benefits for their partnership. However, same-sex couples can obtain a domestic partnership at a younger age if they so wish, although most have forsaken that opportunity with the legalization of gay marriage in 2015.
What is Common Law Marriage?
Common-law marriage is when a couple lives together and presents themselves as being married. They never officially obtained legal documentation or held any official ceremony in the eyes of the state they live in or by the federal government.
Though common law marriages are typically associated with the length of time a couple has been together, this is not the case. Usually, the number that people think of when it comes to a common law marriage is 7 years together. However, there is no truth to this claim. A common law marriage does not require specific times. Most states that still recognize common law marriage consider a year for the couple to cohabitate and be together enough time. Just like with an actual marriage it is wholly up to the couple's preference on when it should take place.
Does New Jersey Have Common Law Marriage?
No, New Jersey no longer recognizes common law marriages. Only common law marriages that were established prior to 1939, when New Jersey changed the laws, would still be recognized legally by any court.
When Does Cohabitation Show Up in Family Law Cases?
Generally, cohabitation comes up most often in alimony cases.
Sometimes, alimony recipients who have a new partner will refrain from marrying that person so they can continue receiving alimony payments while benefiting from sharing their finances with another partner. This obviously circumvents the intended purpose of alimony, which is to provide a single individual with financial support so they can maintain the same quality of life they enjoyed while married.
If an alimony payor can prove to a court that their ex-spouse is cohabitating with another individual, the court may relieve them of their alimony burden, similar to situations where an alimony recipient gets married and is no longer eligible to receive alimony.
Courts often accept the following evidence as proof of cohabitation:
- Shared finances between parties, such as a shared bank account;
- Witness testimony from individuals close to the couples in question, such as friends and family, who are willing to testify that the partners meet the definition of cohabitation under New Jersey law;
- Proof that the couple is living together in the same home a majority of the time;
- Evidence the couples share household chores or other duties;
- Other evidence the court deems relevant and can prove cohabitation, such as an admittance of cohabitation via text by one of the parties.
Unfortunately, gathering the requisite evidence to prove cohabitation can be difficult, especially for alimony payors who may not be privy to the details of a cohabitation arrangement.
For this reason, working with an experienced cohabitation attorney who can leverage third-party professionals and help you gather strong evidence that will stand up in court is essential.