Marriage vs. Cohabitation

Marriage might not be suitable for everyone. These are many reasons why some couple live together but do not get married. Below are the legal differences between cohabitation and marriage.

The requirements for marriage vary from state to state. The state law determines the need for marriage licenses, the residency requirements, legal age, ceremony requirements, blood tests, etc.Two individuals can start living together without any formal requirements.
Marriage can only be ended though the legal process of divorce or annulment.It is generally simple to end the relationship. There is no need for any formalities. The emotional cost of terminating a relationship will be the same as terminating a marriage.
Divorce can affect the distribution of property. There are set rules regarding the distribution of property in case of a divorce.


There is no set law on how the property should be divided when a cohabiting relationship is terminated. It partners can do as they like but it can lead to a complex situation in case of a dispute about who gets what as there is no set law on the division of property.
One spouse, generally the higher earning spouse will be ordered to pay support to the other in the event of a divorce or separation.There is no such obligation in case a cohabiting relationship ends. This can be a boon to the partner who would otherwise have had to pay support while it is a great disadvantage for the partner who is accustomed to support.
When one spouse falls ill or incompetent, the other spouse can take decisions on behalf of the former.In the absence of any living will, one partner will not have the right to take decisions on behalf of the other partner who is ill or incompetent.
A spouse has the legal right to inherit a part of the deceased spouse’s estate.A partner has no legal right to inherit the estate of the other unless there is a valid will indicating so.
The two spouses will be considered as the mother and father of the children born during the marriage.There is no legal presumption that the male partner is father of the children born during the relationship. The male partner must establish paternity.
The spouses have a legal obligation to support the children from the marriage.There is no such legal obligation on the male partner to support the children born during the relationship unless paternity is proved. He may choose to do so voluntarily.
In case of a divorce, the spouse who does not get custody of the children must pay child support.If the relationship terminates, the non-custodial parent must pay child support if paternity is proved.

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