Some couples who can't or don't want to get married enter into marriage-like relationships, if their state allows it. These relationships include common law marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships. Couples in these types of relationships typically have legal issues to sort out when they split up. Since these are legal relationships, you have to follow your state's laws for ending them.
Alternatives to Marriage
If you're just living with another person and don't have children together, either of you can walk away at any time. If you're in a committed, marriage-like relationship, though, you'll have to go through some type of legal process to end it - depending on the laws of your state. Marriage-like relationships also end automatically if your partner dies or if you marry each other.
You Must Divorce to End a Common Law Marriage
Only nine states recognize common law marriages, also called informal marriages. Couples in these states can form a common law marriage by agreeing to be married, telling others they're married, and living together as husband and wife. No wedding ceremony or marriage license is involved. However, there is no such thing as a common law divorce. You must go through the same divorce process that traditional married couples go through. This involves filing a lawsuit and getting a court order to end the marriage.
Civil Unions End in Divorce or Dissolution
A few states allow same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Although not traditional marriages, civil unions require a ceremony and a license from the state. Each state has its own laws about how to end a civil union, but typically you are required to go through your state's divorce or dissolution process. This requires filing a lawsuit and getting a court order.
Laws on Ending a Domestic Partnership Vary
A domestic partnership gives some legal rights to unmarried couples. In the states that allow them, you register your relationship with the state or local government but do not get a license or have a ceremony. State laws vary about how to end a domestic partnership. In California, for example, you can file a notice of termination of domestic partnership if you've been together for fewer than five years, have no children, have not acquired real estate, and meet certain other requirements. Otherwise, you'll have to go through a divorce-like process, except that it's called a termination of domestic partnership. In New York City, on the other hand, you can simply file a notice of termination at the city clerk's office.
A Divorce Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the end of marriage-like relationships is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.