What is Common Law Marriage?
A common law couple consists of two partners that live together in a joint household under a common roof creating a family unit without having conducted any officially recognized marriage ceremony to make them husband and wife.
In Israel, where no option for a civil wedding exists, common law marriage is an alternative to a religious marriage that might not suit the couple for legal or ideological reasons. This is especially true as judicial interpretations and legal expansion have given common law marriage a status almost equal to marriage itself during the last few years.
On the other hand, the growing popularity of common law relationships is part of a worldwide trend. In Europe and North America marriage rates have been declining and more and more couples live together without formal marriage. In Israel, an estimated 180,000 couples live together in common law marriage, 45% of which have anchored their relationship by legal contract.
Common law relationships are not registered by the Interior Ministry and the personal status of the couple is not changed. However, if proof of the relationship exists, the couple is awarded equal status to that of married couples in many areas.
The principal test for a common law relationship is the existence of a mutual household and a daily partnership between the household members that form a family unit and contribute to the household and its finances according to their abilities and needs.
A couple that has a romantic relationship but does not live together or does not share financial responsibilities is not a common law couple.
Common law couples might have been married in a ceremony that is not recognized by the state, signed an agreement for family life or simply live together without any kind of written agreement.
Obligations and rights
Common law couples have rights and obligations to each other, just like a married couple does. These include the right to pension funds of a deceased partner and the obligations associated with mutual assets accumulated during a relationship.
In the past, unmarried couples could not adopt a common family name, but today couples can choose a mutual name simply by filling out the Name Change Application Form in the Interior Ministry.
A child born to a common law couple has the same legal rights as a child of married parents. He or she also has an equal status with regard to custody matters, alimony, inheritance questions and in front of the Rabbinical Court. The child can carry the mother’s or the father’s family name or both.
A woman with children living with a common law spouse is not considered a single parent and is therefore not entitled to the National Insurance benefits granted to single mothers.
The state is not involved in the ending of a common law relationship. In the event of separation, the principles that were set in the couple’s life agreement are activated. If now such agreement exists, the couple has to turn to court to settle the conditions of the separation such as division of property, custody etc.
In certain cases, benefits are not automatically awarded to common law couples as they are to married couples. Common law wives are not exempt from army service and the process of receiving residency for a foreign common law spouse is lengthier than for a foreign husband or wife. Only married couples profit from tax benefits if one of the partners does not work due to pension age or disability.
Any two adults can form a common law couple. (Recognition of the rights of same-sex couples has been forming in Israel for the past few years. They have been awarded rights to pensions and other benefits. There are, however, still instances of bi-valued court rulings in accordance with the personal philosophy of the ruling judge.)
A widow or widower that live with a common law spouse but has not remarried usually continues to receive full compensations and pensions that resulted from the death of husband or wife. Common law spouses are not considered partners for income tax calculations, which can result in financial benefits if the partners are running a business together.
New Family’s Domestic Partners Card
Common law relationships are often anchored in a civil contract that details the partnership between the two individuals and gives judicial authority to the relationship. Having a legal agreement eases the process by which a couple receives social benefits and establishes clearly the rights and obligations in the relationship and for its dissolution. For these reasons, New Family has been providing a legal alternative to marriage for couples that do not want to or cannot marry under the present circumstances in Israel.
Since December 2007, New Family has issued “Domestic Partners Cards” to common law couples that want to receive the same benefits and the same recognition as married spouses. The card indicates that the holders live together as a couple in a common household and serves as a legal affidavit and proof that the two are committed to each other. It is sealed by one of our lawyers and eases problems the couple might have in the areas of inheritance, tax or fiscal law.
New Family is offering a legal solution that allows common law couples to be recognized and equalizes their status in Israeli society.
In addition to that, New Family is putting pressure on the government to understand the need for civil marriage.
So far, the municipalities of Tel Aviv, Mevasseret Zion and Lod have recognized the Domestic Partners Card.