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Family law: Why get married -- isn't love enough?

Today is different from the 1950s when 80 percent of adults in America were married. Now, many couples across the country, including many in New York, now choose to remain unmarried for various reasons. Whether couples choose to remain unmarried for financial reasons or in hopes of preventing the state from accessing their private affairs, there can be adverse consequences. Many of the protections offered by family law are not available for unmarried couples and their children.

Unfortunately, when disaster strikes and families are vulnerable, couples may find that love is not enough. It is not uncommon for a devoted, longstanding partner to be refused access to a critically injured partner in a hospital. In cases in which unmarried individuals are not able to make medical decisions, it is left up to their biological relatives or judges to make vital medical choices. Similarly, decisions about what happens to the body of a beloved partner will be in the hands of those recognized as next of kin in the eyes of the law.

In the event of an unmarried person's death without a will, the partner may have no right to the family home, and he or she may be forced out of it. He or she may also have no claim to any inheritance and even be left impoverished and homeless. Multiple problems can arise when there are children involved because an unmarried father may not be automatically regarded as a biological parent, which can affect parental rights in the event of the mother's death or the end of the relationship.

Few laws provide legal protections for unmarried parents or any long-term romantic partners. However, couples have some options when it comes to protecting themselves and their loved ones. An experienced New York family law attorney can educate individuals about the ways in which some of the protections offered to married partners can be obtained. These may include partnership agreements, medical and financial powers of attorney, wills, and more.

Source:, "When Love Doesn't Count", Ruth Bettelheim, Feb. 14, 2016

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