Common Law Marriage or Domestic Partnership?

Contrary to popular belief, common law marriage does not exist in Oregon. Your relationship does not automatically morph into a marriage if you live together for a certain period of time. However, under certain circumstances you can create a domestic partnership and thus use the family law court system to dissolve your relationship and divide your property.

The main factor in creating a domestic partnership and thus getting into family law for a dissolution and division of property is whether the parties had an intent to pool their resources and monies. Several things would show this intention: joint bank or financial accounts, listing one another as beneficiaries on polices or benefits, free access to all assets (property, finances, et cetera), using one another's last names, referring to one another as husband/wife, and having a child together. The Court looks at all of these factors (and more) to determine whether the parties commingled their lives and finances enough to warrant a finding that they were in a domestic partnership.

If the court decides a domestic partnership exists, then the court can divide property accordingly as the court deems just and equitable. This means that portions of any property, retirement accounts, financial accounts, and other assets and debts will be divided between the parties as is deemed fair by the court. However, in a domestic partnership there is never any spousal support available to either party. Even if you are in a domestic partnership for 50+ years and you separate, there is still no possibility of spousal support. In a true marriage, spousal support for long term marriages can be awarded indefinitely. Therefore, remaining in an unmarried relationship for several years causes the lesser-earning spouse to forego that entitlement. Bottom line: If you want to preserve your right to get spousal support, be sure to get married! If you want to make sure not to pay spousal support, don't get married!

Thus, while common law marriage does not technically exist in Oregon, the principles of domestic partnerships can in practice act the same as one would expect a from a common law marriage. If you are in an unmarried relationship which is coming to an end and have questions about your rights, please feel free to give us a call.

* Please note that the information contained this particular blog deals only with opposite-sex, unregistered domestic partnerships. These principles do not apply to same-sex registered domestic partners or married same-sex couples. The laws applying to those relationships will be further discussed in later blog posts.