The myth of the common-law marriage abounds across most of the United States. However, in Connecticut, as in most states, marriage is identified not by the number of years couples live together but by the formal license, which can make it difficult for partners to seek support after separation.

Specifically, the Connecticut Judicial Branch notes that although other states-albeit it only a handful-may afford legal status to informal or common-law marriage arrangements, those marriages are not valid within the state of Connecticut. An exception is provided for couples who entered into their relationship in a different state where that relationship was accorded equal benefits, responsibilities and rights as a marriage.

Regardless of states’ marriage requirements, more and more couples are choosing to cohabit without walking down the aisle. According to National Public Radio, the number of households consisting of unmarried couples has tripled since 1996 to more than 8 million. Likewise, the number of unmarried couples with children has increased significantly.

Given these statistics, it is especially important for unmarried couples to sit down for a serious talk about how the finances should be distributed within the household, particularly if one partner makes more than the other. This creates a framework for divvying up fiscal responsibilities and finances and minimizes the possibility of misunderstandings down the road. During this process, both partners should consider drawing up wills and other essential documents to ensure that each person’s preferences are clear and enforceable in the long term.

Creating a cohabitation agreement is another vital step for couples who choose not to tie the knot. Divorce is not an option without marriage, but this agreement can fill the gaps, providing specifications for support and asset dispersal and reducing the potential for confusion and conflict in the unfortunate event of a separation. Many couples find it helpful to request assistance from a lawyer, mediator or other third party when making these arrangements.