Family laws related to marriage simply do not apply to unmarried couples. More specifically, marriage creates a legal status between two individuals that gives rise to certain rights to both parties and to the union generally. Unmarried cohabitants do not enjoy this status and do not enjoy many of the rights afforded to married couples. Thus, if a couple is married for two years, and a spouse dies, the other spouse is most likely entitled to receive property, insurance benefits, death benefits, etc., from the other spouse’s estate. If an unmarried couple lives together for 20 years, and one partner dies, the other is not guaranteed any property or benefits.
Though many groups support legal reforms providing protection to unmarried cohabitants that would be analogous to laws governing marriage, very few such laws exist today. Unmarried cohabitants need to know what laws do exist in their state and cities and know what their options are regarding contractual agreements that may provide themselves rights that are analogous to marital rights.