What is Common Law Marriage?
A common-law couple is defined as two adult partners of any gender, religion or nationality that live together and share financial responsibilities as a family unit without having conducted a marriage ceremony that is recognized by the state. A couple in a romantic relationship that does not live together or does not share financial responsibilities is not a common-law couple.
In Israel, where there is no civil marriage, common law marriage is an alternative to religious marriage that the couple may not be eligible for or reject for ideological reasons. Since only a man and a woman of the same religion who are both citizens and residents of Israel can have a religious marriage in Israel, common-law marriage provides a legal alternative for gays, lesbians, interfaith and bi-national couples, women denied a divorce, religiously taboo unions, people who are religiously prohibited from marrying, rape survivors, people who don’t meet the religious definition of any faith, and more.
Common law couples might have been married in a civil or religious ceremony that is not recognized by the state-such as a Reform or Conservative Jewish marriage that is not recognized in Israel-or signed a shared living agreement or simply live together without a written agreement.
Common-Law marriage is an especially attractive alternative since New Family’s advocacy and litigation has generated judicial interpretations and policy changes that made common law marriage a status virtually equal to marriage.
The growing popularity of common law relationships is part of a global trend. In Europe and North America, marriage rates have steadily declined 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 in a legal contract.
Common law relationships are not registered by the Interior Ministry and the personal status of the partners remains ‘single’. However, the couple is eligible for equal and rights status to that of married couples in many spheres by providing documentation of their common-law status in Israel’s institutions.
Common law relationships are often anchored in a share living agreement 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 clearly establishes the rights and obligations within the relationship and for its dissolution in the event of separation. New Family provides several legal alternatives to marriage for couples that are not eligible for or do not want to marry with the Orthodox religious rites required for government recognition.
Obligations and Rights
Common law couples have virtually the same rights and obligations as married couples. These include the right to pension funds of a deceased partner and the obligations to share mutual assets accumulated during the relationship. In the past, unmarried couples could not adopt a common family name, but due to policy changes, today couples can choose a mutual name simply by filling out the Name Change Application Form in the Interior Ministry.
Children born to a common-law couple have the same legal rights and status as a child of married parents. Their status is equal in custody matters, alimony, inheritance questions and in 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 ending a common law relationship. In the event of separation, the principles that were set in the couple’s share living agreement are enacted. If no such agreement exists, the couple has to turn to court to settle the conditions of the separation, such as division of property, custody of children, and other issues. New Family recommends that common-law as well as married couples make shared living or prenuptial agreements that specify the principles of their shared lives together, which includes provisions for separation.
Not all benefits are automatically awarded to common-law couples. Women in common-law relationships are not exempt from army service, and the process of receiving residency status for a foreign common-law spouse is lengthier than for a foreign married spouse. Only married couples gain 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. Thanks to New Family’s judicial activism, legal recognition of the rights of same-sex couples in Israel has advanced considerably. Same-sex couples are eligible for equal recognition in common-law partnership, pensions, tax benefits, parenting (‘maternity’) leave, child allowances, survivors benefits, and more. There are, however, still instances of ambiguous or contradictory court rulings in accordance with the personal philosophy of the ruling judge.
A widow or widower that lives with a common-law spouse but has not remarried usually continues to receive full compensations and pensions following the death of their partner.
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.
Common Law Marriage
Domestic Union Card Common-Law Marriage ID’s are picture identification cards that entitle couples to equal legal status and rights on the basis of a legal affidavit that its holders are common-law spouses. They serve as legal proof of couples’ status as common-law spouses in Israel and abroad. They are recognized in all Israel’s institutions, including social security, government ministries, municipal governments, health services and hospitals, the post office, health clubs and recreational facilities. Common-Law couples are often referred by government agencies to get Common-Law Marriage ID’s to prove their eligibility for status and rights as a couple.
Common-Law Marriage ID Cards won two international awards for exemplary legal innovation in 2009 and 2010.