Just Before You 'Pass' On Saying 'I Do'

In recent years, more and more couples are opting to live together without getting married, for a variety of reasons. The State of Israel has enacted clear laws addressing the division of property for instances when couples who are legally married decide to separate; however, if a couple decides to not be formally married, they are deemed a "common law couple," and then matters become more complicated.

Property rights of common law couples, in the event of a separation or, heaven forbid, if one of them dies, are anchored mainly in case law and not in legislation. In Israel, unlike in many other countries, the term "common law couple" is neither defined nor uniformly regulated in legislation.

In Israel, the definition of a " common law marriage" has evolved over the years within the scope of court rulings, which prescribed two main criteria for recognizing a common law marriage: (a) intimate conjugal relations as a husband and wife, in a manner that shows that the couple indeed consider themselves a married couple for all intents and purposes; (b) cohabitation - the intention is not co-running of a household that derives from some need (financial, personal, convenience, etc.), but rather, a full domestic partnership as the natural outcome of two people who choose to join their destinies. Furthermore, the duration of the couple's cohabitation is irrelevant; the couple's intention is what matters.

It is important to keep in mind that the court will deliberate each case on its merits according to its specific circumstances, analyzing the entire set of facts with the aim of understanding how the couple categorized their relationship. The courts take a flexible approach when ascertaining whether the couple should be deemed in a common law marriage, since the court is cognizant of the fact that no two relationships are alike and each couple's shared domestic lives have unique characteristics.

Have you separated?

It is important to know that, when it comes to transferring rights in a shared residential apartment between spouses after they separate, common law couples benefit from the same reliefs as those that apply to a legally married couple. The salient point here is that a transfer of these rights is not deemed a real-estate transaction and therefore, is not subject to tax.

Section 55 of the Inheritance Law expressly refers to common law couples and prescribes that the testator is deemed as having bequeathed to the surviving (common-law) spouse...

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