Birmingham Family Law: What Are Your Rights If You Weren’t Married?

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Aug 27, 2012 | 0 Comments

More frequently than ever, people are choosing to live together before they marry, or simply choosing to live together without ever getting married.


New research by the Population Studies Center discovered that the number of women in their 30s who had cohabited with their partner doubled in the last 15 years, to 61 percent. About 50 percent of those who cohabit go on to marry.

But do you have any rights if you separate before you make it to the alter? 

Birmingham family law attorneys know that it depends on a variety of factors.

When you live together but aren't married, chances are you are still going to have acquired a decent amount of property together.

If you are not legally married, division of that property, known as assets, can get tricky, particularly if those assets involve some form of real estate. Generally, it's a good idea when purchasing a big ticket item together, such as a home, to have some sort of legal agreement drawn up that will specify how that property should be divided if you separate.

A property agreement can address some of the following issues:

  • How certain accounts, insurance policies and credit cards will be managed;
  • How certain assets are owned;
  • How income and expenses are to be shared, if they are;
  • The way in which certain property should be distributed if you break up.

Barring such an agreement or marriage license, your rights to that property may be in jeopardy.

Aside from property, another word that gets tossed around a great deal is "palimony." This refers to support payments that are sometimes made to to a former spouse to whom you weren't married. However, the fact is, you generally won't have any rights to personal support if you weren't married, no matter how long you were together. You can sue for support if you are able to show that there was an implied contract between you, but without an agreement in writing, proving this can be difficult.

The one exception to this is a common law marriage. A status of common law marriage will provide you to all the legal rights you wold have had if you had been actually married. However, there are very specific requirements for a common law marriage in Alabama. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about what it is – and isn't.

In most cases, you have to prove three things:

1.You have to show that you both have the legal right, or the capacity, to marry. This means, among other factors, that you have to be at least 19 years-old, of the opposite sex, of sound mind and not married to anyone else.

2. You have to show that you both intended to be married to one another. This can be difficult because it's hard to know what anyone intended without proof. Some elements can be: If you were living together, if the woman used the man's last name, whether you filed joint tax returns and had joint bank accounts, if you signed certain contracts together, whether you were raising children together, whether you referred to each other as husband and wife. None of these singularly or even altogether will guarantee you common law status, but a judge can choose to take them as a whole when making a decision.

3. You had to have held yourself out to friends and family as being married.

The other thing that's important to note is that you need not have been married in order to have rights to child support from your ex, if the two you share a biological child together.

If you have questions about your rights during a Birmingham separation, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:

Does Cohabitation Cause a Better Marriage? By Professor Robert Hughes, Jr., The Huffington Post

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama


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