More and more couples choose cohabitation as “common law” couples instead of getting legally married. They believe common law gives them some legal protection. It doesn’t. That might have been true in the past, but now…not so much.
There are currently only eight states in the US that still acknowledge common law marriage (CO, IA, NH, SC, MT, TX, KS, UT). However, most of those have specific provisions, e.g. around dependent children. In recent years, six states that previously recognized Common Law Marriage (PA, OH, IN, GA, FL, AL) don’t anymore, unless it’s a pre-existing arrangement.
Marriage vs Common Law – Why does that matter?
First of all, when a couple makes the decision to live together, it’s easy. Maybe they want to test their compatibility. Or it’s convenient, logistically or financially. And usually the couple is hot for each other, so it’s fun and cozy.
That why the fabulous Susan Sarandon decided to go the living together route in her relationship with Tim Robbins. She’s been quoted as saying she liked the idea of “choosing to be with somebody” and she “thought that if you didn’t get married you wouldn’t take each other for granted as easily.” Her ideas were good ones.
Life, Marriage and Change
The fact is that life changes. Also, people being people, they change – jobs, careers, feelings, opinions…everything. Children are born and start growing up. Money problems happen. Personal problems surface. Whether you are married or cohabiting, the problems are the same: money, uneven sharing of responsibilities, sex issues, lack of boundaries, alone time, and more. That’s life. There’s no getting around it.
Living together – married or not – doesn’t stop problems. It also doesn’t make them easier to resolve. People are people and have varying problem-solving skillsets. Problems come up and need to be dealt with together.
Sarandon and Robbins, in spite of their good intentions, split after twenty years.
Traditional marriage may not be ideal but neither is living together
When you live together, the level of commitment is different. As a result, you are less likely to experience the same level of trust and satisfaction that marriage partners do. At the same time, you are cheating yourself out of some of the legal advantages to marriage like tax benefits, health insurance, and inheritances.
Those might not be as important to you as they will be to your children. In addition, unless couples who have children together also have signed paternity agreements, there is no legal obligation on the part of a father to take care of his children.
Is there a better way? Yes!
When I chose to live with someone, it was because I’d fought hard to become independent and self-supporting. Personally, I didn’t want what I saw too many of my girlfriends do, that is, give up their personal power for the sake of the relationship. Also, I didn’t want to feel stuck in the marriage. And, financially, my social worker boyfriend wasn’t making as much money as I was.
So we lived together, and frankly, I would have continued to do that – to my own detriment, and the detriment of the relationship. There were things I didn’t understand then, or even think about that were very important.
However, after a year of living together, my sweetie wanted to get married. I just couldn’t say ‘yes’ to doing it. At the same time, I didn’t want to have a life without him.
It was a conundrum for me…until I got an idea.
What I knew I could do was be married for a while to see how it would go. I picked five years. Then I figured, if we still liked each other, we could get married again – for five years. I explained my idea to my boyfriend, and he agreed to give it a try. The Five-Year Marriage was born.
What Sarandon liked best was the idea of choosing to be together and not being stuck. In the Five-Year Marriage, we can choose each other again at the end of five years…or not.
Does it make our marriage perfect? NO!
What the Five-Year Marriage does do is remove the “‘til death do you part” stranglehold that suffocates many marriages. It gives couples the flexibility to adjust to life’s changes together. It keeps the power even – one person (often the woman) doesn’t feel the need to give herself up for some issue in the relationship unless he is doing the same.
The Five-Year Marriage fosters relationship equality
Equality in marriage is something unique. It isn’t sameness – because partners are two very different people – and bring very different strengths – and limitations – to the relationship. So equality has to be thought out, decided, and revisited. It’s a dance you have to do, and sometimes it’s not to music either of you like. You learn.
An interesting consideration: if you knew you would only be married for five years, would you choose a partner the same way or think differently about him/her? I’d say ‘yes’ and I say it with experience. The man I was engaged to when I was a twenty-two-year-old schoolteacher living with my parents was the perfect fit for the “good girl” I was then. I’m glad we broke up. I would have been unhappily married within ten years.
Reality and today’s couple
In this 21st century, the future of marriage is uncertain. Traditional marriage is clearly obsolete, especially for smart and savvy women and men who are already comfortable with taking care of themselves and living on their own terms.
If you are thinking about bypassing traditional marriage, living together may not be your best bet. If you are willing to consider an unconventional and unorthodox way of being together, the Five-Year Marriage is the agile marriage. It gives you most of what cohabiting does, and all the benefits of marriage.
That’s a win-win…right?
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