Document Type


Publication Date



Unmarried couples, Domestic relations, Cohabitation


Law and Society | Legal Remedies | Sexuality and the Law


This article discusses the variety of ways state legal systems in the United States treat cohabitation, both by same-sex and heterosexual couples. The different approaches are described along a spectrum that ranges from one extreme, under which cohabitants have essentially no rights against one another or against third parties, to the other extreme, under which cohabitants are to be treated as though they were married under state law. Different areas of law are discussed, including the rights of cohabitants both against one another (remedies upon dissolution, inheritance) and against third parties, such as state benefits, tort claims, health-related benefits, and rights concerning children. The article concludes with speculations concerning why the remedies offered to cohabitants in the United States are so limited, as compared with other countries.


Republished in Marriage and Cohabitation (Alison Diduck, ed., 2008).

Publication Citation

Cynthia G. Bowman, "Legal Treatment of Cohabitation in the United States", 26 Law & Policy (2004)