Common Law Marriage

Family Law Attorney Serving Individuals in Bergen County and Beyond

Long-term cohabitation has become increasingly common in New Jersey, as more couples choose to wait longer to marry or not marry at all. When couples in committed and long-term relationships hold themselves out as married, it is often referred to as common law marriage. New Jersey law, however, does not provide for common law marriage, nor does the law afford these couples the same protection as couples in a legally valid marriage. Bergen County family law lawyer Brian D. Iton has guided individuals in a wide range of matters related to divorce and other domestic issues. He can answer any questions you may have regarding common law marriage and your legal rights.

Common Law Marriage in New Jersey

A common law marriage is one in which the parties hold themselves out as married to the public, share a household, and otherwise act as a married couple without a marriage license or ceremony. Common law marriage can be intentional or unintentional, and it includes situations in which the couple did not have a legal or religious service performed, did not register that ceremony with the state, or did not get a marriage license.

New Jersey eliminated common law marriage in 1939, and therefore couples cannot establish a common law marriage under current state law. This means that the divorce statutes that provide for spousal support and the equitable distribution of property will not apply to unmarried couples that are separating. Furthermore, many other protections afforded to married couples, such as government assistance, pensions, insurance, and other benefits, may not apply to an unmarried couple. New Jersey, however, will recognize an out-of-state common law marriage if it meets that state’s requirements for a valid common law marriage.

There may be some protections for unmarried, separating cohabitants in certain circumstances under New Jersey law. These are typically decided in a court of equity. “Palimony,” for example, is financial support that one ex–partner pays to the other after their long-term, non-marital relationship ends. Before 2010, palimony was recognized and awarded by New Jersey courts fairly regularly. Subsequent changes to the statute of frauds, the law that identifies which kinds of agreements must be in writing, have restricted these payments.

Under the current law, an agreement to pay palimony will only be enforced by the court if it is in writing and signed by the person promising to make the payments, and both parties have received independent legal advice from separate counsel. Separating unmarried couples may also bring a claim in court for the division of property, although the court typically will base its decision on principles of equity instead of the divorce statutes, and it will have wide discretion.

In many cases, cohabitating couples may wish to enter into written agreements during their relationship, which can dictate the separation of assets, the distribution of property, or financial support in the event of a separation. An attorney can assist in drafting such agreements, as well as providing legal advice to his or her client.

Discuss a Family Law Matter with a Bergen County Lawyer

Due to the developing case law in this area, discussing your concerns with an experienced divorce attorney may be beneficial in determining your legal options. Bergen County family law attorney Brian D. Iton has represented individuals in New Jersey divorce proceedings and other matters for over 20 years. He can advise people in communities throughout Bergen, Passaic, Essex, and Hudson Counties, including in Hackensack, Paterson, Jersey City, and Newark. Contact the Law Office of Brian D. Iton at (844) 431-3380 or through our online form to schedule a free consultation.