Cohabitation vs. Marriage

Marriage is just a piece of paper…right?

These days, cohabitation is becoming increasingly common. For example, according to the results of a study published by one university’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the number of women who cohabitated with a spouse prior to marriage rose 70% over a 30-year period.

In a world where traditional gender and family roles are continually evolving, it is unsurprising that marital trends are also shifting. After all, many people assume that cohabitating is essentially equivalent to being married. Couples have many reasons why they choose to cohabitate instead of marry, and everyone should proceed with the option most suitable to their situation. However, there are several distinct differences that you should be aware of prior to moving in together, either with or without the formality of marriage.

How Does the Union Begin?

Marriage has formal requirements that have to be met in order for the legal union to commence. For this reason, it requires a bit more thought and planning than cohabitation. In contrast, there is a distinct reason why cohabitation is also known as “shacking up.” All it takes to begin a cohabitation relationship is for one half of the couple to move in with the other half, no matter whether the two individuals have known each other for 10 years or 10 hours.

What Happens if Your Partner Falls Ill?

When married, each spouse has medical decision-making authority for an ill and incapacitated partner. In contrast, cohabitating partners have no right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner unless the couple had previously put in place some legal agreement such as a living will.

What Happens if You Have a Child Together?

A child born during the context of a marriage is automatically considered to be the child of both spouses. In contrast, a child born to a cohabitating couple is only presumed to be the child of the mother. Paternity still has to be proven in relation to the unmarried father, which can give rise to a different set of issues in relation to child custody and support.

What Happens to Your Shared Home and Belongings if You Split Up?

Florida law outlines specific guidelines regarding the distribution of property in case of a divorce. In contrast, there is no set law on how property should be divided when cohabitating couples split up. While this may seem like a simpler property division process, there may actually be even more conflict as to who gets what than in a marriage that is ending as everything is technically fair game.

How Will the Differences Between Cohabitation and Marriage Affect Your Situation?

Allow us to make things clear by helping you weigh your options. We can assist with everything from helping you determine whether you need a prenuptial agreement if you choose marriage or helping you ensure that your partner would have medical decision-making power if necessary if you choose cohabitation. We can provide the best of both worlds, with big-firm benefits as well as small-firm attention from our team of experienced Trial Attorneys and professional and courteous staff. We are the legal team you want on your side, and you can begin by reaching out to us for help today.