Utah is one of a handful of states that still allows couples to petition the court to recognize them as married even though they never had a ceremony or obtained a marriage license. This requires a showing that the parties were of an age to consent, that the lived together, that they treated each other as married, and presented to the public that they were married. This mechanism is often used after the fact to prove a marriage and thus certain rights.
This becomes particularly important in estate law because, if a marriage can be established, the spouse has certain rights to the estate, whether or not there is a formal will, that they would not have if the marriage were not established. So long as the spousal share has not been waived, a spouse in Utah has the right to a portion of the deceased spouses estate, regardless of children and written wills.
Changes in Recognition of Marriage
Recently, the state of South Carolina outlawed common law marriages, becoming one in a series of states to require a marriage license in order for couples to take advantage of the benefits the state affords married parties. This has impacts for divorce and estate law as individuals can no longer establish their long-term relationship as grounds to claim benefits, a way for couples who are together long term to claim protections needed when they separate.
With an increasing trend towards removing common law marriage, and court-recognized marriage, other laws may need to be enacted that provide some protections to people who have lived together long term and become financially intertwined while stopping short of the full benefits of marriage. Laws to govern the dissolution of long term nonmarital relationships where people have taken hybrid advantage of comingling assets but still managing some aspects of their lives independently, or even intentionally chose not to get married.
One problem with common law marriage is that it allows couples to take inconsistent positions, alleging whatever option is of the most economic advantage. This plays out in the estate setting as people claim to be married to long term partners to get at assets that they would not otherwise be able to claim. The vagueness of the rules surrounding common law marriage, as well as the benefit that can be gained through marriage, make this an area that is rife for contention, lawsuits, and lawyers.
The estate team of lawyers from Dunn Law Firm can help by taking the time to fully understand your situation and advise on the likely impacts of your long-term relationships. There are a number of ways to structure estates such that your goals are met and you do not need to worry about the potential for a common law marriage claim. Similarly, there are ways to protect a long-term partner and provide for them without changing your estate and beneficiaries. Each situation is unique and taking the time to work with an experienced estate planner can save you and those you love significant problems in the future. To learn more, reach out to the Dunn Law Firm by calling (435) 628-5405 to set up a free consultation today.