Many New Jersey couples are deciding not to get married. Choosing not to get married can be a fine and understandable choice for anyone. But making this choice carries with it some serious legal and practical risks as well.
It’s extremely important to emphasize that unmarried couples give up many rights and legal protections that New Jersey divorce law typically provides for married couples. Such as the right to receive a property settlement and/or support if there is a divorce, file joint tax returns, receive distributions from estates free of estate tax, receive survivor’s benefits from retirement plans and Social Security, the right to obtain “family” health insurance, dental insurance, and other employment benefits, to make medical decisions for their partner, and the right to automatically share in a partner’s property in the event he or she dies without a will. All of these rights are unavailable to an unmarried couple in a long-term relationship unless the proper legal paperwork has been completed in advance. This is because although you may regard your partner as a family member, the laws of New Jersey do not.
Legally, New Jersey law simply does not provide to couples who choose to live together, or “cohabitate,” the same rights it affords to married couples. While both relationships may have identical commitment, stability, and goals, New Jersey law does not treat the two equally. When a married couple divorces, former spouses are permitted to demand alimony and equitable distribution of the property accumulated by the parties during the marriage. Former unmarried partners, however, cannot seek either of these things. Instead, such partners are forced to rely on “common law” theories of recovery pursued in civil court or, in some cases, the difficult to successfully pursue “palimony” claim, now rendered impossible without a written agreement to provide it. There is just no getting around it: The legal remedies and protections available to unmarried couples are extremely limited when compared to the rights provided to married couples.
An unmarried couple living together can negotiate and sign a contractual arrangement that governs the legal, economic, and other aspects of their arrangement. Such documents are called “Cohabitation Agreements.” Cohabitation agreements ensure both partners will be satisfied with how each of them will separate their respective belongings, assets, and debts should said couple decide to end their relationship. In addition, such agreements also provide for support from one partner to the other, or to expressly eliminate such requests. They may even decide on custody and parenting-time issues, saving children the trauma of a prolonged custody battle between their parents. While some would argue that such a document is “planning for failure,” we take the approach that cohabitation agreements should be considered as a tool by which a committed partnership between two people is made stronger by providing for their future, regardless of what that future may be. We recommend strongly that all unmarried couples who live together draft a cohabitation agreement.
Another serious issue for unmarried couples is the inability to make medical decisions for their partner. This means that in the unfortunate event that one partner suffers a serious medical issue or death, the other is left without the right to make health care decisions, or even access basic items like bank accounts or health insurance paperwork when such items are at their most needed. In these situations, it is crucial that a couple have prepared in advance documents like a Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Cohabitation Agreement. It’s also important if you share ownership of real estate or other property, or a business, that you have a clear contract as to what happens to that property or business should your relationship end.
We offer a full host of legal documents to protect you and your partner against whatever the future may hold. Call us at 856-227-7888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation to discuss your legal options. We’ll help you live life your own way while still getting the legal protection you and your partner need, both today and tomorrow