Some couples may be hesitant to get married under traditional procedures. There may be many reasons for this, such as religious reasons and financial considerations. For example, a couple’s legal marital status can affect other areas of life, such as access to medical care, retirement benefits, tax consequences, and citizenship/immigration. Here are some common alternatives to marriage:

  • Cohabitation: This is where the couple lives together in the same residence. They usually are not afforded the same rights as married couple. On the other hand, the couple can spell out their rights regarding property and other related issues in a “cohabitation agreement.”
  • Common Law Marriages: In these marriages, the state where the couple resides recognizes the couple as a married couple, even though they never had a wedding or obtained a state marriage license. This is not available in all states, but the couple is usually granted nearly all of the same state rights as a legally married couple. Where it is recognized, the requirements for common law marriage are usually unique to that particular state.
  • Civil Unions: These unions generally grant the legal status of a married couple, but only within the state. The couple must file with the state for a civil union, and receive the same benefits as a married couple. This option is currently available only in a limited number of states.   
  • Domestic Partnerships: These create a legal relationship for the couple which is similar to marriage in many states. Depending on the jurisdiction, the couple may be treated as if they were married; however, in many areas a domestic partnership is closer to a cohabitation arrangement, with the couple receiving much less rights than a legally married couple.

Which Traditional Marriage Alternative Is Right for Me and My Partner?

First of all, you should understand that not all of these options are available in every state or to every couple. Also, there may be various requirements associated with each option. For example, Washington State only offers domestic partnerships to couples in which one individual is over 62.

One major concern with traditional marriage alternatives has to do with medical benefits and hospital visitation rights. For some alternatives, a person can visit their partner who has been admitted to a hospital, while that right is not available for people in other domestic arrangements.
Another concern has to do with the transfer of certain work-related benefits, such as retirement plans or company vacation packages.These can sometimes be transferred to the other partner, depending on their legal marital status.

One important thing to note is that some alternatives to marriage may not be recognized in other U.S. states or countries. There are also some federal benefits that are extended only to married couples.

Thus, you may wish to conduct some research into the various legal rights and limitations associated with each traditional marriage alternative. Generally speaking, the more the couple is treated as if they were legally married, the more rights and protections they will be afforded under state and local laws.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help with Traditional Marriage Alternatives?

If you are considering an alternative to marriage that is available in your state, you may wish to consult a family law attorney. A lawyer can help determine what your rights and options are under the law for your current and potential domestic situation, and can represent you in court if necessary.