Common-law marriage: Rights of live-in partners
Many Filipino couples are living outside of lawful marriage. And while our society has become more accepting of this family unit, many are still clueless about the law that governs this kind of relationship.
How common is common law marriage in the Philippines? Very common, actually.
What is not common is the knowledge that certain laws exist to govern and protect individuals in this kind of marriage. Many don’t even acknowledge it as such—as a “marriage”—because after all, they do not have the “papers” that say they are legally husband and wife.
Whether society and culture accept the validity of common law marriage in the Philippines, Articles 147 and 148 of the Family Code recognize this family unit and union.
Although cohabiting couples do not have similar rights and responsibilities as a lawful married couple, they are still protected by law. Once you enter a live-in relationship, it is legally recognized as a common law marriage in the Philippines. Cohabiting affects your legal position and you can protect yourself, and your children, should your relationship end or one of you dies.
How else will you be able to get past bitter confrontations and survive shameless drama about properties and custodial battles, unless you have an idea of what the law dictates?
Common questions about common law marriage in the Philippines
“Live-in lang kami.”
After decades of seeing relatives and friends enter common-law relationships, it is not frowned upon now, as in the “olden days." The fact that the Family Code now governs this union means we have gone a long way, somehow. And if you are in such a relationship, it is best to know the law to begin with, and not be blindsided by hearsay and unsolicited advice from people around you.
We sought explanation and clarification from Atty. Marivic Tuazon and referred to the legal column of Dr. Persida V. Rueda-Acosta, doctor of Social Development and Chief Public Attorney of the Philippines, in The Manila Times, to further understand laws about live-in relationships or common law marriage in the Philippines.
NOTE: Please be reminded that this article does not qualify as legal advice. Only lawyers can give proper legal advice, specific to your situation and case. Consult a lawyer that specializes in Family Law accordingly.
Common-law marriage is defined in The Dictionary of Legal Terms, as “one based not upon ceremony and compliance with legal formalities but upon the agreement of two persons, legally competent to marry, to cohabit with the intention of being husband and wife, usually for a minimum period of seven years.”
Common-law marriage in the Philippines is governed by Article 147 of the Family Code, which reads:
“When a man and a woman who are capacitated to marry each other, live exclusively with each other as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage or under a void marriage, their wages and salaries shall be owned by them in equal shares and the property acquired by both of them through their work or industry shall be governed by the rules on co-ownership.”
The Family Code recognizes the relationship where a man and a woman live exclusively with each other, just like a husband and wife, but without the benefit of marriage (or when the marriage is void, as in when previously annulled by the Court of Law).
If one or both partners are still legally married to another partner, they are not entitled to any rights or claim of property under Article 147, no matter how long they have been living together. This is further explained and governed in Article 148.
Common-law marriage in the Philippines is governed by a property regime, just like legal marriages, although there are stipulations that are different.
What if I bought the property with my own money?
Under Article 147, properties bought or acquired by the couple while they were living together is to be considered joint ownership, and “shall be owned by them in equal shares.”
So, even if one is a stay-at-home mom, and her live-in partner was the one who paid for the purchase of their house, the former is still considered part-owner of the said property because it was acquired through their “joint efforts.” It is also governed by the rules on equal co-ownership. The stay-at-home partner cared for and maintained the family household, and this is considered her contribution.
We have been living together for 20 years, but my partner is still legally married to another woman. Do we have equal co-ownership of the house and cars we bought together?
As directed in Article 148, if one of the parties in a common-law relationship has a prior marriage, only the properties acquired through an actual joint contribution of money, property or industry shall be considered joint ownership.
It also does not mean it will be equal. The percentage of ownership will be according to or in proportion to each partner’s actual contributions, or how much each has paid to purchase the property. If there is no proof of such amount of contribution, then it will be considered equal.
Moreover, the married partner’s share shall be forfeited and will be given to his or her partner from the previous legal marriage.
Can his wife claim conjugal ownership to a house my partner (her husband) and I bought?
Yes. Because your partner has a legal wife from a previous marriage, his wife has the right to claim the husband’s share of any property or money.
Does a child from a common law marriage claim support from his/her father, after the couple separated?
Articles 195 and 196 of the Family Code of the Philippines clearly states the obligation of parents to provide child support for “indispensable” needs of their legitimate or illegitimate child or children. This includes food, shelter, clothes, medical care, education, and transportation. The court will decide the amount that should be paid based on the child’s needs and the parents’ means.
Moreover, Republic Act No. 9262, otherwise known as the “Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004” also “criminalizes” (against fathers only) failure to provide financial support. This means there are criminal sanctions or penalties for fathers who do not provide support or withholds custody without the court’s approval.
Can I sell or bequeath (give or gift) any property my partner and I bought or owned in common, during our years of living together?
Neither party can sell, donate or pass on a property to anyone else without the consent of the other, Atty. Tuazon explains. Any transaction like this may be considered illegal.
However, this can be possibly done if the relationship ends and the couple has separated ways.
If one of the partners dies, can the surviving partner inherit the properties they’ve acquired together?
The surviving partner can only claim rights to his or her equal part of the property as a co-owner, but not all of it. Only the children and parents of the deceased partner can claim the other part of the property.
If the deceased is survived by a legal husband or wife from a previous marriage that has not been annulled, he or she is entitled to the property as co-owner. The surviving live-in partner can claim his or her equal part if she can provide proof that he or she bought the property together, using mutual funds.
Does this law (Articles 147 and 148) cover same-sex relationships?
No, it does not, says Atty. Tuazon. The law only applies to male and female partnerships, because Philippine Law does not recognize same-sex marriage.
Can I sue my live-in partner if he cheats on me? Isn’t that considered adultery?
Common law marriages have no legal bounds, when it comes to the relationship itself. Only the matter of properties is mentioned in the Family Code.
The criminal sanctions for adultery and concubinage are for married couples only. Only legally married individuals (couples who are bound by a marriage contract) have legal obligations to their spouses, according to Article 68 of the Family Code—which includes fidelity.
As a live-in partner, you cannot take your partner to a court or sue him for having an affair. Again, common law marriage in the Philippines is only governed by property relations, and not Article 68. You cannot hold your partner accountable for any infidelity.
Nobody wants to get into the bitter battle that often punctuates a relationship, especially one that you have invested in for so many years. You certainly do not want to think it will have to end at all.
Still, it is better to know that you have legal rights, even though you have decided to enter a “marriage” that is not fully governed or recognized by Philippine Law.
Get the advice and legal help you need from a lawyer, to make sure that both you and your common-law partner understand your legal rights and ensure that your interests are protected.
SOURCES: Atty. Marivic Tuazon; Dr. Persida V. Rueda-Acosta, doctor of Social Development and Chief Public Attorney of the Philippines, The Manila Times;