Articles Posted in Cohabitation

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Utah’s anti-polygamy law was ruled unconstitutional this month when a federal district court judge in Utah struck down the state’s prohibition of “cohabitation,” perhaps opening the door for the eventual legalization of polygamous marriage. The case continues the recent trend, in courts and in the nation as a whole, toward changing the way we think about marriage and the regulation of personal relationships by the government.

Polygamy Hands

The challenge to the Utah statute was brought by a Utah man (and reality television star) who lives with his four wives and 17 children. The court found that, under the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion, the statute’s language banning “cohabitation” is unconstitutional. The state can still prohibit actual polygamy by not allowing anyone to have more than one valid marriage license. However, the decision may pave the way for the legalization of polygamy sooner rather than later.

Another Significant Change to Domestic Relations Law 

The decision is the latest in a line of cases, from Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 through US v. Windsor earlier this year, in which the federal courts have expanded the right to privacy and limited the government’s ability to regulate private sexual behavior. The Utah court specifically cited Lawrence, which struck down anti-sodomy laws in Texas. In that case, the majority opinion stated that the Constitution protects people from “unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places” and “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression and certain intimate conduct.”

The dissent in Lawrence famously argued that the decision would inevitably lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage, polygamy, and other non-traditional familial arrangements and sexual practices. If marriage is nothing more than a matter of choice by consenting parties, reasoned the dissent, then there is no basis for limiting it to opposite-sex couples or to just two people.

In Windsor, the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, essentially requiring the federal government and state governments to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Once again, critics predicted a “slippery slope” in which anti-polygamy laws would no longer stand up to constitutional scrutiny. If decisions about who can get married belong exclusively to the individuals involved, rather than to the community or government, then any regulation of those consensual decisions becomes intrusive.

The plaintiffs’ attorney in the Utah case, however, disagreed with the dissenting opinions in Lawrence and Windsor. He argued that those cases and the Utah decision ultimately come down to privacy, and to each person’s “right to be left alone as consenting adults.” People should be able to do whatever they want in their own homes, as long as they do not harm others. The government, the attorney argued, should not interfere with what its citizens do behind closed doors.

What to Do if You Want to Enter into a Non-traditional Marriage

Since the Utah decision relied on federal law, it would be equally applicable in California and other states. Continue reading →

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cohabitation split.jpgAccording to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012 there were 112 million single individuals over the age of 18 living in the United States. This number represents 47 percent of the country’s adult population.

UNMARRIED, COHABITATING COUPLES ARE ON THE RISE

Of this unwed population, over 12 million live with their romantic partners in nearly 6 million households across the United States. The number of unmarried, cohabitating partners has increased substantially over the past few decades. Between 1960 and 2000, the number of unmarried, cohabitating partners increased tenfold. The number of unmarried, cohabitating partners has grown even more rapidly over the past several years. For example, the number of unmarried, cohabitating partners increased by approximately 88 percent between 1990 and 2007.

Unmarried cohabitation is often a first step for couples who intend to get married. About 75 percent of unmarried, cohabitating partners report that they plan to get married as some point. In fact, over half of unmarried, cohabitating couples get married within the first five years of living together. However, approximately 40 percent of these couples break up within the same five year period and the remaining 10 percent remain as unmarried, cohabitating partners.

In 2000, there were 683,516 unmarried, cohabitating households within the state of California. Based on statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, California contains one out of every eight unmarried, cohabitating households within the United States. California has more unmarried, cohabitating households than any other State, with 12 percent of all unmarried, cohabitating households within the Country.

As these statistics indicate, the legal rights and entitlements of unmarried, cohabitating partners is a subject that will affect a large number of Americans, particularly those residing in California, at some point within their adult lives.

UNMARRIED, COHABITATING CALIFORNIA COUPLES MAY BE ENTITLED TO PALIMONY

California does not recognize common law marriage. Therefore, unmarried, cohabitating couples who hold themselves out as a married couple are not given the same legal rights and entitlements as a legally married couple.

However, in the state of California, an unmarried, cohabitating individual may be entitled to palimony when their relationship comes to an end. Palimony is the division of financial assets and real property between unmarried, cohabitating couples. This entitlement is not based on family law principles, but rather on contractual agreement. Therefore, in order to receive palimony, a former cohabitating partner must prove that the couple had a written, oral, or implied agreement that they would receive some financial benefit in exchange for something of value such as, taking care of their partner, raising children, or giving up a career.

The most well-known palimony case in California occurred in 1977 when the actor Lee Marvin was sued by his long time live in partner, Michelle Triola Marvin for palimony. Michelle claimed that the actor had promised to take care of her financially for the rest of her life and that she had given up a singing and acting career to be with him. While the California Supreme Court did not find that the couple had an agreement, the case did solidify that where a written, oral, or implied agreement did exist, a former unmarried, cohabitating partner would be entitled to palimony.

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