Massachusetts law about unmarried couples

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on the legal issues affecting unmarried couples.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.209C, § 10 Child custody. "Prior to or in the absence of an adjudication or voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, the mother shall have custody of a child born out of wedlock."

City and town bylaws

City of Somerville, Massachusetts ordinance granting polyamorous groups certain rights
In June 2020, the city of Somerville, Massachusetts adopted an ordinance granting polyamorous (the practice of intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved) groups certain rights held traditionally by spouses, such as the right to visit one in the hospital and the ability to confer health benefits. The first municipal ordinance of its kind in the country, it specifies that domestic partnerships are an “entity formed by people.”  Changed from an “entity formed by two people.”

Selected case law

Charron v. Amaral, 451 Mass. 767 (2008)
"A claim for a loss of consortium cannot arise unless the family member has, inter alia, a legal relationship with the injured third party. In the case of adult couples, the legal relationship is established by marriage. This court consistently has rejected the idea that cohabiting adults, even those who could demonstrate a commitment to each other, could recover" for loss of consortium.

Collins v. Guggenheim, 417 Mass. 615 (1994), 
The SJC refused to extent rights to obtain property division under M.G.L. c. 208 section 34 to unmarried co-habitants.

Fitzsimmons v. Mini Coach of Boston, Inc., 440 Mass. 1028 (2003),
Unmarried cohabitants are not entitled to loss of consortium.

Sullivan v. Rooney, 404 Mass. 160 (1989), 
This case provides a good discussion of theories of property division between non-married cohabitants. 

Wilcox v. Trautz, 427 Mass. 326 (1998)
Case discusses issues involved in dividing the property of unmarried cohabitants at some length. "To the extent we have not previously done so, we adopt the view that unmarried cohabitants may lawfully contract concerning property, financial, and other matters relevant to their relationship. Such a contract is subject to the rules of contract law and is valid even if expressly made in contemplation of a common living arrangement, except to the extent that sexual services constitute the only, or dominant, consideration for the agreement, or that enforcement should be denied on some other public policy ground."

Worcester Housing Authority v. Mass. Commission Against Discrimination, 406 Mass. 244 (1989)
"It is unlawful to refuse to rent to or lease to or withhold public housing benefits from persons because they are unmarried."

Web sources

Cohabitation agreements, Findlaw.
"Includes information about when you might need a cohabitation agreement; what it can do for you; the different ways they can be drafted; and related matters such as wills and durable power of attorney."

Cohabitation property rights for unmarried couples, Findlaw.
When unmarried couples live together for a while, it's likely that they accumulate a good amount of property. Unlike married couples, the property rights for unmarried couples are not afforded the same legal protections.” This site provides an overview of the legal protections available to unmarried couples. 

Property rights of unmarried couples in Massachusetts, MA Divorce
"Frequently asked questions to help unmarried couples determine who owns what."

Print sources

Counseling unmarried couples, ABA, 2nd edition, 2014.  Includes a CD ROM with sample forms. Discusses tax consequences, real estate ownership, debts & liabilities, insurance, public and private benefits, estate planning, non-marital dissolutions and cohabitation financial agreements and provides sample forms. 

Family Law and Practice, 4th ed. (Mass.Practice  v. 1-3), Thomson Reuters, 2013 with supplements. Section 15-48, Rights of Unmarried Parties (Cohabitation).

A legal guide for lesbian and gay couples by Frederick Hertz, Nolo, 2020.

LexisNexis practice guide: Massachusetts family law, LexisNexis, 2021, § 12:13 cohabitation agreements. 

Living together : a legal guide for unmarried couples by Frederick Hertz, Nolo, 2020.

Massachusetts domestic relations, 5th ed., Lexis, with supplement. § 15-48, Rights of Unmarried Parties (Cohabitation).

Principles of the law of family dissolution, The American Law Institute, 2002 with supplements. Chapter 6: Domestic partners. While not Massachusetts specific, this chapter discusses the fair distribution of economic gain and losses that come with the termination of a domestic partnership.  What defines domestic partnership property and how is it allocated once the partnership is over. Provides illustrations and examples. 



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Last updated: April 5, 2022