If you have a partner but are not legally married to him or her, you may be in a situation pertaining to what is called the common law marriage. In case you are here to find out about the common law marriage in MD, this article will make it straightforward for you what rights you and your partner have, if your relationship is recognized or not, as well as many other details that might interest you.
What is a common law marriage?
First of all, for the general ease of understanding, let’s establish what a common law marriage means in Maryland. The People’s Law Library of Maryland defines this term as a relationship between partners living together but without having gone through a lawful ceremony to be declared spouses.
You cannot form a common law marriage in MD
Another thing that must be made clear from the get-go is that you cannot create such a marriage in Maryland. It doesn’t matter how many years you and your partner have been living together as spouses. Therefore, legal rights cannot be obtained unless you two signed another legal agreement regarding your cohabitation status. However, having your relationship declared marriage is impossible.
Nonetheless, all is not black and white, and that’s good. Maryland recognizes the common law marriages sanctioned in other jurisdictions as long as they are aligned with the legal requirements imposed there. Alabama, Colorado, The District of Columbia, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah are the states where such marriages can be formed.
In Utah, a court or administrative order must validate a common law marriage so that it can be recognized. In other states – Georgia, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – only such marriages formed prior to an established fate are admitted. In New Hampshire, only matters involving inheritance can acknowledge common law marriages.
Another thing that must be added is that only Rhode Island and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex relationships as common law marriages, provided that the rest of the conditions are met.
As you can see, Maryland is not on the list and doesn’t even belong to the selection of states that allow the formation of such marriages within certain limitations. That means that you can end such a relationship without any legal action being required, but there are no marital rights and obligations, either.
How Maryland law deals with the marriages admitted in other states
Since it was mentioned that Maryland recognizes the validity of common law marriages formed in other states where they are legal, you might be interested in how legal matters are dealt with here. For instance, legal action is required for ending these marriages, even if they were formed in other jurisdictions. In other words, you can take the issue to court in Maryland, and your legal rights will be protected, as well as your partner’s.
How can you protect your rights in Maryland?
Even though you do not have a common law marriage formed in a state that allows it, your rights in a long-term relationship are still protected in Maryland. For instance, you can make sure that your partner inherits your wealth after your passing away by designing a will or trust with him or her as the beneficiary.
Another thing you may be interested in making clear is the role of your spouse in the event that medical and financial decisions must be taken in your name when you are incapacitated due to health issues and the like. Name your partner your agent, and give them a power of attorney by forming a corresponding legal document, and you will be protected.
What does a cohabitation agreement offer you in MD?
While you cannot form a common law marriage in Maryland, you can create what is called a cohabitation agreement. Since it is treated as a contract that can be used in a court of law, it is a dependable agreement that protects your rights. Usually, these agreements focus on things such as financial obligations. Details regarding the handling of debt or property ownership can be stipulated in the contract.
But that is not all. A cohabitation agreement can be quite detailed and go as far as to describe each partner’s obligations regarding chores and other minute aspects of your relationship. While it may appear as a difficult task to deal with such a detailed document, it can be an essential step that guarantees that you and your partner understand well where you stand in your relationship.
A cohabitation agreement is not the same as a lawful marriage or even common law marriage, but it can serve to clear a lot of misunderstandings in your relationship, hence strengthening the bond you share. Not to mention, you will make sure that your partner’s rights are protected and vice versa if anything happens to any of you.
Do you need an attorney to create a cohabitation agreement?
This is a crucial question, and you should know that an attorney’s contribution is not strictly necessary. However, if you want this agreement to protect your interest, it is wise to have your attorney involved and not solely depend on your partner’s good intentions. An attorney will also make sure that you understand to the minutest detail your rights and obligations, as presented by the cohabitation agreement.
What are your legal rights in a long-term relationship in MD?
Besides a cohabitation agreement that comes with specific details regarding your rights and obligations, other legally binding documents and provisions will protect you in Maryland. For instance, if you own a property together, the way the ownership is described is essential. You and your partner can be listed as joint tenants.
Another term used is tenants in common. The former is less binding, as there are no surviving benefits associated with it; however, as joint tenants, the partners will have the right to each other’s ownership transferred automatically in the event of one’s death. Make sure to get a joint tenancy legalized to ensure such an outcome, as such ownerships of property are not recognized implicitly in MD.
Death benefits are a more complicated matter. According to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act, the surviving partner needs to demonstrate complete or partial dependency on the deceased at the time of injury to receive benefits. Examining the provisions of the act will make things clear for you, or you can ask an attorney for further explanations.
Federal compensations in the case of your partner’s death refer only to ‘widows’ and ‘widowers’. These terms exclude people who weren’t in a legally binding marriage when the unfortunate event took place. In brief, you are unlikely to receive federal benefits as the surviving partner, although you may be entitled to some of them if you were part of a recognized common law marriage.
What are the essential requirements of common law marriage?
Even if you cannot form a common law marriage in Maryland, you might want to learn what it takes for it to be validated in the states where it is recognized. Besides the obligations for both partners to live in a jurisdiction where such a marriage is recognized, there are other essential requirements. For instance, they must both have the legal capacity to be part of a common law marriage; this means that they need to be of legal age and in a sound mind to consent to it.
They have to agree to live together as spouses (husband and wife in most states since only Rhode Island and the District of Columbia recognize the same rights for same-sex relationships) from that point forward in a relationship recognized as a common law marriage. Another condition is that they live together.
However, you should know that each state has specific requirements, such as the minimum number of years of living together for the common law marriage to be recognized.
What advantages do partners have if they create a common law marriage?
It is vital to have a common law marriage sanctioned in the jurisdiction you live in – if allowed – because both you and your partner receive the same benefits as those offered to people who form legally binding marriages. That means that you can inherit your partner and vice versa, and you can receive survivor benefits.
Another advantage is related to the possibility to qualify for health insurance, as offered by your partner’s and your employers. To take advantage of all these benefits, you will have to prove that you have taken care of all the aspects required by the law for your marriage to be recognized. For instance, you might need witnesses to attest that you and your partner presented as a married couple to the community.
How can you end a common law marriage?
Since a common law marriage has legal consequences for the lives of those involved, that also means that its termination requires the law and its provisions. Even if you didn’t marry legally, you would have to divorce legally by getting a legal divorce or an annulment that clearly states that you and your partner are no longer married. Don’t expect to break up with your partner and have all the legal obligations toward one another dissolved.