Although common law marriage is not legal in Massachusetts, it is important to recognize that Massachusetts courts often consider premarital behavior in divorce cases. For example, if a spouse files for divorce after only two years of marriage, the outcome of his or her divorce is likely to be quite different if the parties lived together for ten years before getting married versus a 2-year marriage involving parties who never cohabitated before getting married.
The impact of premarital cohabitation can affect the division of marital assets, where Massachusetts courts are required to consider the length of the marriage when dividing assets. If a spouse can show that the parties shared money and assets before the marriage during a lengthy premarital relationship, this can impact the judge’s “length of the marriage” analysis. However, it is important not to overstate the value of premarital cohabitation in the asset division context. Even a lengthy period of premarital cohabitation may not be enough to generate an equal division of all assets – including those acquired before the marriage – if the duration of the subsequent marriage is brief.
Premarital cohabitation arguably has a bigger effect on post-divorce alimony. Recent Massachusetts appellate decision suggest that courts are increasingly willing to extend the duration of alimony based on premarital cohabitation. Although the premarital conduct of married individuals is easily distinguishable from common-law marriage, these legal trends are nevertheless important. What they tell us is that long-time unmarried partners – i.e. just the sort of folks who might feel they have a common law marriage – may gain some of the legal rights associated with a long-term marriage after being married for a relatively brief period of time.
If you or someone you know could benefit from assistance in decision making during a divorce, contact Falmouth Mediation at 508-566-4159 for a free, no-obligation, private, confidential consultation. We will be happy to discuss the key details of your situation, address any concerns, and help you decide if divorce mediation would be beneficial.