Why Cohabitation Does Not Entitle A Party to Equitable Distribution or Spousal Support

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It is important to understand the importance of what some couples may consider “just a piece of paper.” The State of Michigan does not generally recognize common law marriage. Therefore, it is important to be legally married to ensure a partner is entitled to spousal support or equitable distribution earned from years of participating in an economic partnership. Think of a legal marriage as evidence of that partnership.

Michigan changed its laws relating to common law marriage to protect the public. Cohabitation has been defined as “[t]he fact, state, condition, or practice of living together, esp. as partners in life, usu. with the suggestion of sexual relations.” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed 2019). Before 1957, Michigan recognized a cohabitation relationship as a common-law marriage where the parties first agreed to take each other as husband and wife and then cohabited. See, Grammas v Kettle306 Mich 308, 10 NW2d 895 (1943). After January 1, 1957, common-law marriage was abolished by MCL 551.2, which requires parties to consent and have a license to have a valid marriage. The purpose of abolishing common-law marriage was to prevent perjury and fraud in survivor benefit cases involving such couples and to set a good example for future generations.

Michigan recognizes common-law marriages in the following two situations:

  1. Couples who had a valid common-law marriage in Michigan before its abolition on January 1, 1957.
  2. If the parties legally entered into a common-law marriage in a state that permits it, Michigan recognizes the marriage. In re Estate of Brack121 Mich App 585, 329 NW2d 432 (1982). This is based on the rule that a marriage that is valid where it is contracted is valid everywhere. Hutchins v Kimmell, 31 Mich 126 (1875); Toth v Toth50 Mich App 150, 212 NW2d 812 (1973).

The other hidden challenge for common law couples is the burden of proving such a marriage existed in the common law state, in Michigan Courts. It can be challenging interpret another state’s laws in a Michigan Court. If you are concerned about the validity of your marriage and are contemplating a divorce, contact Diana Mohyi Attorney at Law.

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