Today, many couples choose to live together without getting married. But what are the rights of unmarried couples living together? Arizona, like every state, has laws and regulations governing cohabiting couples who choose not to enter into a legal marriage.
Common Law Marriage in Arizona
While some states recognize common law marriage (living with a person with whom you are in a relationship for a specified time period, typically seven years) as being as good as legal marriage, Arizona is not one of them. However, Arizona does recognize common-law marriages that are validly contracted in other states, provided those marriages complied with the requirements of the state in which the relationship was established.
Palimony in Arizona
Alimony or spousal maintenance is payments between divorced couples who were once married. For couples who separate who were not married, the equivalent is known as palimony. Because Arizona law does not recognize common law marriage, there are no laws governing who may receive palimony, and under what terms. It is down to the Arizona courts to decide whether palimony should be awarded, and to whom.
In some cases, an Arizona court may issue a financial support order after a separation or breakup, such as in cases where one partner promised financial support in return for being taken care of. However, these cases are rare and palimony is typically awarded as the result of a cohabitation agreement or some other form of document setting out the intent required to justify palimony.
Custody of Children
In Arizona, an unmarried father is not automatically presumed to be the biological father. This can lead to complications in the event of a breakup. Arizona law automatically grants an unmarried mother custody of her child without any need for legal action. This means the mother can make decisions about the child's living arrangements and welfare without consulting the child's father. To challenge this arrangement, the father must file a paternity or custody action. The court will order genetic testing to determine paternity.
Arizona law presumes paternity when a DNA test states there is at least a 95 percent likelihood that the man is the father. Paternity is also presumed when both parents sign the birth certificate of a child born to an unmarried woman. Otherwise, the parents can voluntarily acknowledge paternity in a notarized, signed statement. However, a judge can rule against paternity if there is clear and convincing evidence that the man is not the biological father.
Protecting Your Rights as an Unmarried Couple
Because Arizona law for unmarried couples does not give couples in long-term cohabiting relationships the same rights as married couples, you may want to take steps to avoid legal action in the event of a breakup. For example, you could draw up an agreement setting out how property and any other joint assets should be divided. Without such an agreement, the legal position is that both parties have automatic rights only to whatever they own. The situation is quite different than in a divorce, where both parties have claims to assets purchased in only one party's name.
It is also important for unmarried couples in Arizona to have a will giving them the right to make healthcare or end-of-life decisions for each other, as they do not have this right automatically. Because they are not legally married, they do not have the automatic right to inherit their partner's assets after death. Making a will listing the partner as the benefactor of all property and assets, as well as a living will or notarized agreement giving a partner the authority to make decisions if the other partner is incapacitated, is a wise move for unmarried couples in Arizona.
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.