For a multitude of reasons, many couples have serious relationships that basically mimic a marriage without them getting a license and saying “I do.” Maybe the couple decided not to get legally married because of tax or alimony considerations, children from a previous relationship, or for other financial or personal reasons. But just as occurs in your typical marriage, what happens if you want to separate from your significant other, or the unthinkable happens and he or she is severely injured or passes away? You likely have assets and financial funds to divide. Or you may have to file a wrongful death case, claim insurance, retirement or other benefits, or seek an inheritance. What are the steps you must take to protect your financial and legal rights?
Utah does not have common law marriage, but offers another option
Although Utah does not recognize a common law marriage per se, the state does allow you to file a petition to recognize the relationship as a marriage, despite not having had a legal ceremony or procuring a license. However, you must gather evidence and/or witnesses to prove to the court that you had a marital agreement based on certain acts or conditions, such as:
- The parties were of legal age and legally capable to consent to marriage
- They lived together
- They act and treat each other as if they are a married couple
- The parties presented themselves to others as if they are married
You must petition the court in a timely manner
The court does not allow you to delay the filing of the petition to request a declaration of a valid marriage. It must be done either during the relationship, or within one year after it ends, either due to separation or one or both parties’ deaths. Otherwise, the court will deny the request as untimely. It can be filed by either party, or by next of kin.
What proof is required to prove consent and intent to be married? For the court to consider declaring the relationship a marriage, the following evidence could sway the judge to grant your request:
- A written agreement
- Joint credit, bank, and investment accounts
- Filing joint tax returns
- Witness testimony of those present when agreements were made
- Having yourself or your children take your partner’s surname
- Declaring to others that you were married
- Declaring in documents, such as deeds or wills, that you were married, as decided in Whyte v. Blair, 885 P.2d 791, 795 (Utah 1994)
If you get your request granted by the court, it is like “backdating” the marriage, and you will be considered legally married. You will then gain the same rights and responsibilities as any other married couple. To determine if this is the right action for you to take, please call Rex B Bushman at (801) 652-9413.