July 3, 2022

What is the Difference Between Marriage and Cohabitation?

Marriage is a legally binding contract between two people. Cohabitation is simply living together as a couple. 

The main difference between the two is that marriage provides legal protections in the event of death or divorce, while cohabitation may not always.

Marriage and Cohabitation: What are the Primary Differences

Here are the primary differences:

  • Marriage has a binding contract. Cohabitation doesn’t.

Someone who is married has a legal, binding contract. The person is married under state law and is protected by the law if they get divorced. The two people have agreed to be married, and that agreement can be changed only by divorce or death.

In contrast, someone who lives with a partner may not have any contract at all. They may have been living together for years or only a few months. They might have children together or no children at all. 

They might share finances or keep them completely separate. It’s hard to know exactly what people mean when they say they live together unless you ask them what their relationship is like, especially if there are children involved.

  • Marriage is a commitment. Cohabitation is not.

Married couples have the same rights and responsibilities as any other couple, no matter how long they have been together. 

Married couples can make medical decisions for each other, file taxes jointly, and even own property together. 

Cohabiting couples may or may not do these things together depending on their relationship.

  • Financial protection

The biggest difference between marriage and cohabitation is financial protection. If you’re married and your spouse dies unexpectedly, you will be able to collect life insurance benefits through your spouse’s policy. 

If you’re living together with someone who isn’t your spouse and they die unexpectedly, you won’t be eligible for any benefits under their policy unless it was written specifically as “joint tenants with right of survivorship” (JTWROS). 

This means that if you want to ensure that you’ll receive some financial protection in the event of an untimely death,  it’s best to get married before living together. 

Or at least, have some sort of document signed by both parties stating their intentions if one dies before the other does.

  • Rents, utilities, mortgages, debts

Cohabiting couples often share expenses such as rent or mortgage payments and utilities but may maintain separate bank accounts and assets unless they decide to combine them into one account. 

They also may choose to buy property together instead of separately if they wish to establish joint ownership of it. 

In most states, cohabiting couples can be held legally responsible for each other’s debts and estate obligations. 

If a couple lives together for at least three years, they may be able to get alimony if one partner dies or becomes disabled. But there is no such protection for unmarried partners in many states.

Last Words

It’s crucial to understand what your state laws say about marriage versus cohabitation. Knowing these regulations helps you make an informed decision regarding the kind of engagement you want.

Author bio

Blair Thomas has been a music producer, bouncer, and screenwriter and for over a decade has been the proud Co-Founder of eMerchantBroker, the highest-rated adult merchant services provider in the country. He has climbed in the Himalayas, survived a hurricane, and lived on a gold mine in the Yukon. He currently calls Thailand his home with a lifetime collection of his favorite books.

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