- Cohabitation does not equal marriage in Utah
- What this means for couples
- Common-law marriages formed outside of Utah
To experience the legal benefits of marriage in Utah, it’s necessary to have your union legally recognized in Utah. If you’re unmarried and your partner dies, for example, things could get complicated and messy. You wouldn’t have the entitlements that a married spouse would. The same holds true for long-term couples who break up without having been legally married.
If you don’t want the hassle of a wedding in Utah, you can declare yourself as married through a simple process in which you simply ask the court to recognize your marriage and meet some basic requirements.
Cohabitation does not equal marriage in Utah
In Utah, a couple who cohabitates cannot just decide they’re married without some type of official recognition. For a Utah marriage to be considered valid, the couple must be recognized by the court as married.
Here are the requirements you must meet to marry in Utah:
- The parties are of legal age and capable of consent
- The parties are able to legally marry
- The parties live together
- The parties treat each other as though they are married
- The parties present themselves as married in public
Marriage requires legal documentation in Utah, but it does not require any kind of traditional or religious marriage ceremony.
What does this mean for couples?
Marriage has the potential to help your finances, providing tax breaks, qualifying you for benefits you would otherwise not get, getting you various family deals on things like insurance, and more. However, your marriage must be legally recognized in order to get such benefits.
Similarly, a married couple’s finances are often thought of as joint finances. Money is not considered one spouse’s property; it’s considered the married couple’s joint property. In the event of a break-up, you would want this money to be divided fairly. But if the court views you as unmarried, you may have no claim to that shared money.
Major purchases, such as buying a car or home, can cost significant money. These purchases are often made jointly by couples.
If such a purchase were made by an unmarried couple, however, the item may be in only one person’s name. This would matter if the two of you were to separate. It would also matter if, say, your partner became incapacitated or died. In such an event, you may have no claim to the property you shared.
Note that some property may be legally owned by two unmarried parties if it is clear that the property is meant to be shared. For example, many businesses are considered to be co-owned by multiple individuals.
Therefore, if you and your partner share property in an official joint ownership, being unmarried won’t put that ownership in question in the event of separation or death. However, you will want to make sure you can prove joint ownership in the event that someone contests it.
Spousal support laws exist to help make sure spouses who don’t work during a marriage are treated fairly if the marriage ends. For example, an ex may be required to pay spousal support to help them meet their financial needs.
If you were never considered officially married, however, you are highly unlikely to get such payments in Utah after breaking up. This has the potential to be financially devastating in some situations.
What if you are unmarried in Utah but have children together? Child custody may be affected if you decide to separate. However, it’s worth noting that custody of biological children is not dependent on marriage. Custody law acknowledges that the parents of children are not always married.
Much more complicated is the scenario in which an unrelated adult views their ex-partner’s children as their own. In the court’s eyes, these kids would likely be considered children of their biological parent only. The former partner would have no claim to custody or visitation if no legal agreements about custody or visitation were made.
In cases of adoption, custody depends on the specifics of the legal arrangement. If you’re not considered married by the state, custody of an adopted child solely depends on what the adoption paperwork has to say about the child’s legal guardians.
Common-law marriages formed outside of Utah
Utah will accept any marriage from another state as long as you meet that state’s marriage requirements and that marriage hasn’t violated Utah law. In other words, if you had a common-law marriage in another state, the state of Utah would view you as legally married if you were to move there.
Note: If you intend to be recognized as married in Utah, you will need a way to prove you met the other state’s common-law marriage laws.
ReferencesJudicial Recognition of a Relationship as a Marriage. Utah State Courts.
Marriage. Utah Legal Services.