Recently, there’s been a rise in the number of young unmarried couples living together and older couples merely “shacking up” instead of getting married. What these couples may not understand is that simply being in a long-term, committed relationship does not give them the rights and benefits of a married couple.
Misconception – California is a common law state
Though there are several states that do recognize common law marriage (which states as long as you live together in a committed relationship for a set number of years, you will receive the same rights as a married couple), California is not one of them. Living together, or cohabitating, does not guarantee the same rights to property and inheritance. In the eyes of the law, these couples are nothing more than “legal strangers.”
In other words, the rules governing community property and intestacy do not apply to unmarried couples. This can make some things easier, but others, such as the division or inheritance of real estate, can become quite sticky. Having a cohabitation agreement covering financial obligations during and after cohabitation, a will, and/or a living trust is a must to guarantee the correct distribution of property.
Misconception – Custody and Paternity automatically belong to both biological parents
Despite what you may believe, unwed fathers have very little, if any, rights when it comes to custody. Regardless of whether someone is the biological father or is in a long-term, committed relationship with the mother, the mother is automatically granted one hundred percent physical custody of a child born out of wedlock.
In California, though, courts do take into consideration the health, safety and welfare of the child. If the father is the primary caregiver or has signed a Declaration of Paternity at the time of birth, he may have more rights when it comes to custody and visitation.
Misconception – Cohabitants have rights in health care decisions
Unlike married couples, cohabitants do not have any rights when it comes to making medical decisions on behalf of their partner. Spouses, adult children and biological parents are treated as top-priority decision-makers, regardless of how long someone has lived with their partner.
Therefore, individuals must have a medical or healthcare directive in place. This includes a Health Care Declaration indicating how you are to be treated in emergency situations, as well as a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare designating who has the right to make medical decisions on the individual’s behalf.
Misconception – Cohabitants can dictate funeral arrangements
Although cohabitants may have told their partner what they want when they die, it doesn’t mean that person has the right to carry out those wishes. These decisions automatically go to the next of kin, and only a spouse, parent, child, grandparent, sibling or legally authorized representative may order a certified copy of the death certificate.
Having a will or other notarized legal affidavit granting these rights to the cohabitant is the only way to keep family members from going against the deceased’s wishes.