You and your partner may feel very comfortable in your relationship as it is now. Perhaps because of your personal philosophies or other circumstances, marriage is not for you, and you prefer to cohabitate without a contract or license. This may be a decision you have made for life, or maybe you and your partner will re-evaluate at some point in the future.

Nevertheless, without official recognition of your union from the state of California, you and your partner may be missing out on numerous marital entitlements, not to mention placing yourselves at great financial risk in the unlikely event of a breakup. Understanding California laws concerning common-law marriages and domestic partnerships may help you make smart decisions that could benefit you now and in the future.

Protecting yourself in a common-law union

Few states recognize common-law marriages these days, and California is not one of them. The only exception is for those couples who move to California from a state that validated their common-law union.

If this is not your situation, you and your partner might consider drafting and signing a cohabitation agreement. Such a contract would clarify your rights and obligations in the partnership and allow for a less stressful division of joint assets in case the relationship ends.

Is domestic partnership right for you?

Another civil union option is a domestic partnership. If you and your partner are over 18 and are not interested in getting married, this path for obtaining legal protections may offer the benefits you are seeking. A domestic partnership provides many of the same legal protections as a marriage, such as:

  • Coverage by the insurance policy of your partner
  • The right to involvement in health care decisions for your partner
  • Custody rights for children you share with your partner
  • The right to inherit property from your partner’s estate
  • A share of joint property after a breakup
  • Spousal support after a breakup, if you qualify

A domestic partnership also allows you to maintain a tax status as “single” instead of the higher bracket for married filers.

Which is right for you?

Your union with your partner is a personal and delicate matter. Still, you want to ensure you have the legal protections and privileges you deserve, both during your relationship and if it should ever end.

Too often, unmarried partners do not realize how vulnerable they are until it is too late. To avoid this, it is wise to explore your options and resources and to seek trustworthy answers to your questions.