If you have been in a long-term relationship, you may be worried about what will happen if that relationship ends. You likely have intermingled your life with your partner’s, which makes answering this question extremely important. You may have put off discussing this because you believed you were in a common law marriage.
Do we qualify as a New Jersey common law marriage?
Your relationship, no matter how long or how intermingled, likely does not qualify as a common law marriage because our state no longer recognizes these non-traditional marriages. Indeed, there are only two exceptions to this rule. In both situations, in New Jersey, your common law marriage will allow you to get a divorce, just like any other married individual.
What are the exceptions to this rule?
First, our state recognized common law marriages prior to the end of 1939. As such, if you were together prior to December 1, 1939, and established your common law marriage prior to the law change, then your relationship can still qualify for common law marriage status.
Second, our state recognizes other state’s common law marriage laws. Thus, if you were common law married in another state, and then, after legally establishing that common law marriage in that state, you move here, your relationship here will also qualify for common law marriage status. If your soon-to-be ex-spouse is put in a worse situation as a result, they may fight for the judge not to recognize it.
How can I protect my rights?
If you moved from another state, you could check that state to see if your relationship qualifies as a common law marriage. However, even if it does not, or you are not comfortable relying solely on a judge finding as such, there are other ways to protect your rights.
First, you could get married. Second, you could create a cohabitation agreement that outlines what would happen if there was a separation. Third, you could write each other into your estate plans, including trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, etc. In combination, the second and third steps can create marriage-like rights.