Legal Rights for Unmarried Couples in Arizona

By Heidi Toth
Arizona couples who live together in lieu of getting married are subject to different custody and property rules.

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Many Arizona couples live together without getting married. Some look at it as a test run for marriage; others simply opt out of a legal ceremony. This has resulted in legal questions when it comes to property, children, decision-making and what to do if the couple breaks up. Arizona, like every state, has regulations dealing with these relationships.

Common Law Marriages

A common law marriage is one in which the couple has lived together as a married couple for so long that the state recognizes it as a legal marriage. Arizona does not have common law marriages, although the state government does recognize some common law marriages created in other states.

Health and Death Decisions

Unmarried partners do not have the right to make health care or end-of-life decisions for the other partner unless they have a written agreement. Nor does an unmarried partner have the automatic right to the other person’s assets in the event of death. Unmarried couples need wills that list the partner as the benefactor of all property and other assets, as well as living wills or notarized agreements that gives the other person the authority to make decisions if a partner is incapacitated.

Custody of Children

The rights of an unmarried couple remain the same when it comes to children as long as the couple is together. However, should the parents split up, it becomes more complicated. Fathers are not automatically presumed to be the biological parent, according to Arizona attorney Wendy Raquel Hernandez. If the child is not the biological or legal offspring of both parents, the other parent may still have visitation rights if she has acted in the place of a parent and the court determines it is in the best interest of the child.


In the event of a separation, both partners have automatic rights only to whatever they own. If assets have been acquired in one person’s name–for example, one bought a house in his or her name only–the other partner has no claim to those assets, as would be the case in a divorce. Couples also can create agreements similar to a prenuptial agreement that divide assets up in the case of a breakup.

About the Author

Heidi Toth has been writing professionally since 2002. She has written for "The University Daily" at Texas Tech University, the "Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal" and the "Daily Herald" in Provo, Utah. Toth has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in business administration, both from Texas Tech.

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