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  • Writer's pictureSarah Morris Ocampo

What Rights Do Cohabitating Couples Have?

More and more of us are choosing to live with our partners (before, or instead of, marriage) than ever before. Although the general zeitgeist suggests that it is mostly millennials who are populating this trend, based on data collected in 2016, there has been a 75% increase in cohabiting adults over the age of 50 since 2007.[1] No matter the age or the reason, there has been a definite increase in this trend.

While a marriage has widely understood legal rights and obligations, the legal parameters of simply living with a significant other can be confusing, especially as it varies state-by-state. Some states recognize “common law marriage,” which means that a couple may be recognized as legally married (with all its trappings), even without a ceremony or license.[2] Certain conditions have to be met, such having “acknowledge[ed] each other as husband and wife” for at least 3 years, with specific rules varying by state. However, most states do not recognize common law marriages. [3] Nevada is one of the states that does not.[4] This means that even if a person is in a long-term relationship, and they have been living together for many years, they are not considered legally married, and therefore do not have the rights and protections of a marriage. 

Don’t fret! While common law marriage is not explicitly recognized, case law and interpretation of the statutes over the years indicates that a legal marriage is not the sole governing factor in the division of property. A cohabitation agreement may be formed either verbally, in writing, or by a couples’ conduct (such as living and presenting themselves to others as married, pooling their resources, etc.), which would allow for the communal distribution of property.[5] However, the enforcement of such agreements is complicated, especially when there is no written agreement. Furthermore, these types of agreements still do not confer many of the other rights and obligations of legal marriages, such as alimony, the ability to collect federal benefits, and the right to inherit property from your partner without a will.[6]

Cohabitation is a complex topic. If you are in a committed, long-term relationship, but have no plans of marrying, it is important to have a discussion with your partner about not only your shared property, but also what to do if one person becomes incapacitated. Next, discussing your options with legal counsel will save you the confusion and headache in the future. It may not be an easy or comfortable topic, but it is an crucial one.

And finally, as we always say, “If you think you might need an attorney, you probably do.” Visit our website for more information on Las Vegas estate planning. To schedule a complimentary, 15-minute phone consultation with our Las Vegas estate planning attorneys call (702) 323-6354, or fill out our contact form.


[1] Stepler, Renee. (April 6, 2017). Number of U.S. adults cohabitating with partner continues to rise, especially among those 50 and older. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

[2] Common Law Marriage by State. (August 4, 2014) National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved from

[3] Id.

[4] NRS 122.010.

[5] Western States Contr.  v. Michoff, 108 NEV. 931 (Nev. 1992).

[6] Nevada Same-Sex Marriages, Domestic Partnerships and Cohabitation Agreements. Las Vegas Defense Group. Retrieved from

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