Is Common Law Marriage Recognized in Maine?

Is Common Law Marriage Recognized in Maine

Common law marriage is not recognized under Maine law. This means that disputes over debts, assets/property, or any other matters concerning the end of the relationship will not be handled in the same manner as spouses in a divorce.

However, this does not mean that if you have lived together for some time and have children together, you automatically have no rights if the relationship should end.

It is important to understand your legal rights and responsibilities as an unmarried couple when it comes to child custody and parenting, property division, and support issues if you are in this situation in Maine.

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What is the difference between cohabitation and marriage in Maine?

Cohabitation is when a couple lives together and shares a home without being legally married. Marriage, on the other hand, is a formal commitment to each other and a legal union recognized by the State of Maine.

Married couples have rights that unmarried couples do not have, such as automatic property division and inheritance rights, as well as the ability to make medical decisions on each other’s behalf. It can often come as a surprise that these rights do not extend to unmarried, cohabitating couples.

Another difference is that ending a marriage requires the legal process of divorce. However, ending a cohabitation arrangement requires no such court procedure.

Do unmarried couples have any property rights in Maine?

Couples who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for many years but who never tied the knot are not automatically entitled to a fair share of the property accumulated during the relationship. Maine’s “equitable distribution” laws that regulate the methods of dividing property from a relationship only apply to married couples.

Unmarried couples without a cohabitation agreement that specifies what will happen if the relationship ends have no legal requirement to divide property equally. There is also no legal requirement to provide support to the lower-earning spouse, as generally applies in divorce cases for married couples. This means that couples without a cohabitation agreement can find it even harder to cleanly split financially than divorcing married couples.

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Can unmarried couples establish rights as a couple in Maine?

Importantly, unmarried couples in Maine can establish a set of rights if they take steps to prepare the right documentation but there is no automatic provision for these rights for cohabiting couples under Maine law.

Unmarried same-sex and heterosexual couples may form a domestic partnership in Maine. This is like a “common law” partnership and gives couples some of the benefits afforded to married partners—but not all of them.

Similarly, adult partners who voluntarily cohabit may enter into a contract to establish a set of rights and obligations for each partner concerning property, earnings, and other matters during the relationship. This agreement can also address property division and support issues if the relationship breaks down. Partners may agree to pool their earnings and hold all property acquired during the relationship separately, jointly or be governed by Maine’s equitable distribution property laws.

The agreement may also address estate planning and medical matters. Cohabiting partners are not usually considered heirs under Maine’s estate laws and do not automatically have the right to make medical care decisions as a spouse would have. In order to make sure the right protections are in place some estate planning steps may be required, and a medical power of attorney may need to be established.

Domestic partners should seek legal advice for preparing the right documents that address their main concerns and protect their rights.

What is a cohabitation agreement in Maine?

A cohabitation agreement is a written contract between two people who are living together or planning to live together and who otherwise may have no (or limited) legal protection. Usually, such agreements are prepared for couples who have entered into a domestic partnership or who plan to do so.

As described above, this agreement covers the rights and obligations of each partner and matters such as property ownership, financial responsibilities, and child custody arrangements.

How long do you have to be together for common-law marriage in Maine?

Although there is no such thing as “common law marriage” in Maine, a domestic partnership is a similar concept.

To qualify for a domestic partnership, the partners must both be mentally competent adults who have been legally domiciled together in Maine for the preceding 12 months. Furthermore, the relationship must not be prohibited under Maine law due to the marriage of one of the partners or because of prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

It should be noted that domestic partnerships in Maine are automatically terminated if one of the parties marries someone else.

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What are the legal rights of cohabiting couples?

The legal rights for unmarried couples in Maine are limited compared to those of married spouses, especially if no steps are taken to register a domestic partnership and/or prepare a legally binding cohabitation agreement.

If you are cohabiting with your partner, or plan to, consider the benefits of taking these steps, which can provide important protections if the relationship should break down in the future. Cohabitation agreements can help prevent disputes and clarify how property is divided and whether support is payable.

It is essential to ensure that any agreement is legally enforceable by consulting with a qualified family law or divorce attorney—or it may be challenged in court.

What if a cohabiting couple has children in Maine?

Unmarried couples who have children together and later split can approach the court in Maine to settle disputes over child support, child-parent contact, residence, and other relevant disagreements.

A Parental Rights and Responsibility case can be filed, and orders can be made concerning matters like co-parenting. However, the court will only intervene in child issues. If there is no cohabitation agreement between the couple, no legal matters concerning property or other matters can be heard by the court.

If you need legal assistance during a separation or divorce in Maine, speak to an experienced family law attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation.

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Call 207-230-6884 or contact us online to schedule a consult with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys today.

We serve many clients, just like you, across Maine in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, & Lincoln Counties.


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Divorce is a highly emotional and stressful experience for most people. But you don’t have to face this challenge alone. Having a strong divorce attorney in your corner can help ensure that you and your children walk away from this process with the best opportunities available for future success and happiness.