What are the Legal Differences Between Marriage and Living Together?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 January 2020
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The main differences between marriage and living together are that couples who are cohabiting but who are not married have fewer legal rights than those who are legally wed. Exact differences will depend on any legally binding contracts drawn up by the couple. Those who have a common law marriage assume some of the legal rights of formally married partners, although this varies by location.

One of the main differences between marriage and living together is the fact that non-married individuals have no rights to their partner’s property. Those who have separate bank accounts will have no rights to retrieve money from their partner’s account, and partners are not automatically entitled to their significant other and apologized’s property if he or she dies. Married couples are usually automatically entitled to such assets unless a will specifies otherwise.

Children and child custody are also handled differently amongst those who are married. Any child born within a marriage is considered to be the husband’s child unless proven otherwise. In couples who are only living together, children are considered to be within the mother’s custody unless a court appoints the father with parental responsibilities or he marries the mother.


Other differences between marriage and living together deal with separation, citizenship, and financial support. Those who are not married do not have to file any legal documentation in order to formally end the relationship. Married individuals have to remain legally separated for a certain period of time and then file for divorce in most areas.

Non-citizens are generally not exempt from deportation even if he or she is living with a significant other. If he or she marries his or her partner, then legal residency is often given. There are some stipulations to this in certain countries, as the governments will want to ensure that the marriage is legitimate and that both partners are in love. This prevents couples from marrying for the sole purpose of one partner gaining citizenship.

The differences between marriage and living together may be different for couples who have entered a domestic partnership or common law marriage. Domestic partners enter a legally binding contract with one another, thus giving them similar rights as those enjoyed by married couples. The exact rights given will depend largely on location. A common law marriage is sometimes used synonymously with domestic partnership, although it does not involve the use of a formal contract and it often requires partners to live together for a long period of time.


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Post 1

Common law marriage is probably the worst of both worlds, legally speaking. It's easy enough to claim, but doesn't really settle many typical marital issues. I believe the couple has to share the same physical address for at least 6 months and present themselves in public as husband and wife.

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