For many couples, marriage has two meanings: a sentimental or religious purpose and a legal purpose. While the personal side takes a different form for everyone, the legal side is rigid. North Carolina law provides specific benefits and protections to married couples that are not available to unmarried couples.
However, modern perspectives on love and marriage are changing. Some couples do not choose to get married during their relationship. Even if personal reasons inspire this choice, however, couples might still want some degree of legal protection throughout their life together.
The law does not always catch up to modern lifestyles. If you are not married, there are other legal tools that can protect you.
Cohabitation agreements set expectations
When a couple lives together for many years, there is a high chance of intermingling property and business. A potential breakup could therefore become just as complicated as a divorce. Without marriage, however, your legal options for getting a fair outcome are limited.
While married couples often use prenuptial agreements to set the stage for their marriage and make a possible divorce easier, people who live together can create cohabitation agreements to serve the same purpose. In addition to outlining property and debt ownership, you may also specify responsibilities related to paying the bills or maintaining the home.
It is also worth mentioning that North Carolina has an unusual law; technically, the state can criminally charge a cohabitating couple with a misdemeanor if they are not married. While prosecutors rarely enforce this law, it is still important to discuss this possibility with an attorney.
Regardless of living situation, protection is important
Not all committed couples live together. Unmarried parents may consider formalizing child support and parenting plan arrangements – even if they are still in a relationship. You may also consider estate planning documents to give your partner the ability to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf. Furthermore, all individuals can seek protection from domestic violence regardless of marital status.
The legal incentives of formal marriage do not necessarily need to outweigh your personal decisions. Whether you plan to eventually marry or otherwise, your attorney can help you find creative ways to build a strong foundation for your future together.