Minnesota does not recognize common-law marriage. Common-law marriage involves couples who treat each other as if they are married, hold themselves out as married and believe themselves to be married as a matter of law. Often, parties to a common-law marriage will refer to each other as husband and wife, share last names or file income tax returns together. Only 16 states (nearest being Iowa) recognize common-law marriages, and that number is shrinking.

In Minnesota, parties who live together are considered cohabitants, rather than husband and wife. Unlike the marital dissolution statutes which provide that the parties shall fairly divide (usually equally) the property accumulated by both during the marriage, cohabitants who break off their relationship are awarded property directly in proportion to their financial contribution during the relationship. Such cases are civil actions, not family court actions.

Strange, however, during a time when more and more people are living together without marrying such a limited number of statutes that apply. Some argue the legislature has intentionally limited the law in this area to encourage people to get married, therefore maintaining some sort of perceived “ideal” society.

Given the practical reality, however, it seems more legislation must be drafted to protect those who have committed themselves in a long-term relationship yet failed to contribute financially as much as the other. They may have an expectation that differs greatly from the judgment received after the fallout of their relationship.