Marriage vs. Cohabitation: Knowing Which is Right for Your Relationship

With the Supreme Court ruling last summer, it became possible for same-sex couples in Michigan to marry legally. Many same-sex couples rushed to obtain marriage licenses and complete a long awaited milestone in their relationships. Marriage, however, is a significant decision that should not be rushed into. While it is the right choice for many couples, both same-sex and heterosexual, it is not the only option for couples wishing to make a commitment to each other. In Michigan, couples may choose to cohabitate instead of getting married, but should be aware of the legal differences.

Legal Differences Between Cohabitation and Marriage

Marriage is not simply a symbolic union, it affords couples many legal benefits that cohabitation does not. For same-sex couples, the legal benefits marriage grants were amongst the most important reasons for seeking legalization of same-sex marriage. This includes items such as:

Employment Benefits - Married spouses have the right to obtain insurance benefits, wages, workers' compensation, and retirement benefits from their spouse's employer.

Medical Benefits - Marriage grants legal visitation rights at hospitals or other medical facilities as well as the ability to make medical decisions if the spouse is incapacitated.

Governmental and Tax Benefits - Married couples have the option of filing joint income tax returns and create 'family partnerships'. It also gives them the right to receive Social Security, Medicare, veterans', military, and disability benefits designated for spouses.

Family Benefits - Spouses can file for joint adoption, step-parent, and foster care rights. In a divorce property is divided and spousal support, child support, child custody, and visitation can be granted.

Estate Planning Benefits - Married couples may inherit their spouse's estate, can get exemptions from estate and gift taxes, and make life trusts.

Death Benefits - Spouses may make funeral arrangements and consent to after-death examinations and procedures.

Other Legal Protections - Married couples also have the right to housing and consumer benefits. In addition, spouses may sue a third party for wrongful death of a spouse, obtain immigration or residency benefits for a noncitizen spouse, receive visitation rights in jail, and various other legal benefits and protections only afforded to immediate family.

Although marriage offers several legal benefits for couples, there are many couples who wish to be together without financial or legal entanglements often associated with marriage, or, in particular, the dissolution of marriage. For these types of couples, cohabitation may be the right choice.

Why Cohabitation?

Michigan is one of the few states where cohabitation between a unmarried man and woman is actually illegal, though the law is not enforced. For same-sex couples, however, cohabitating was a frequently an alternative before marriage was between same-sex couples became legal.

Cohabitating is often an attractive alternative to marriage as couples are not required to obtain a marriage license and may dissolve the relationship at any time without dealing with the financial and legal difficulties of divorce. There are no formal requirements for cohabitation. Although legally less complicated, couples that end their cohabitation may face some of the same issues divorcing couples do without the legal guidelines to resolve problems. It is also important to remember that Michigan does not recognize common law marriage of any same sex or other couple.

Questions? Call an Experienced Michigan Attorney

Both marriage and cohabitation are significant steps in a relationship and each has its own legal implications. If you have any questions regarding your legal rights and the differences between marriage and cohabitation for couples, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney. Michael A. Robbins is one of the foremost family law authorities in Michigan and has years of experience working with couples on matters relating to marriage and cohabitation. Call 248-646-7980 or contact the Law Office of Michael A. Robbins online for help with any of your questions. We serve the Tri-County area of Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties as well as greater Michigan.