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Living together, marriage, what's the difference?

Society's view about personal relationships is undergoing major changes before our eyes. Just a few years ago, same-sex couples marrying in Minnesota wasn't legal. Now it is.

And even though the right to marry is one that now exists for other- and same-sex couples alike, it doesn't mean that a couple will necessarily find it the right thing for them. The question many might then ask is whether there are alternatives to marriage, such as cohabitation, and whether there is really any difference between them.

The answer is that there are options. Cohabitation is one of them. Domestic partnership is another. While they might seem similar on the face of things, there are differences that can present some unique challenges for couples when family law issues need to be addressed.

Agreements can always be drafted regardless of the form of relationship undertaken. But to be sure yours encompasses the range of issues that you might encounter it's important to work with an attorney experienced in identifying possible issues and who is able to explain the if-then consequences of any contract provision.

In brief, here is how the various models of relationship that might be available for couples may differ.

  • Marriage: The requirements to marry change by state. Typically, a license is required. In some instances the parties have to be of a minimum age, provide a blood test, complete a waiting period and have an officiated ceremony with witnesses. Certain legal rights are created by marriage such as a right to make decisions for a spouse in the event of incapacity and inheritance rights. Divorcing requires meeting certain standards, as well.

  • Domestic partnerships: Minneapolis law recognizes domestic partnerships. Formally registering the relationship grants visitation privileges to the parties in health care facilities. It may also make it possible for employer health benefits to extend to both individuals. Ending the relationship is done by submitting a formal termination form.

  • Cohabitation: There is no formal requirement for entering into this kind of arrangement. Ending the relationship doesn't typically carry with it any form of legal support obligation. If one is desired, it's best defined through a legal document. If children are involved and support is sought, legal paternity must be established.

Your situation is unique and finding the right model for your needs is not something to undertake without solid counsel.

Sources:, "Marriage vs. Cohabitation," accessed March 16, 2016, "Domestic Partners," accessed March 16, 2016, "Domestic Partners Registration," accessed March 16, 2016


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