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How To Live Together Without A Ketuba Or Marriage License

Family Law

There are several ways cohabitating couples can ensure smooth sailing.

How many couples do you know, who have decided to ‘live together’ without a marriage license or ketuba? It has become very common in recent years for couples to opt out of legal and/or halachic marriage. There are an estimated 200,000 couples in Israel who live together this way.

Some of the reasons they choose this arrangement are due to:

  • their questionable status as Jews in the eyes of the Rabbinate and, as such, they are listed as unable to be married
  • the Jewish halachic prohibition for a Cohen to marry a divorced woman
  • one party is confirmed as a non-Jew
  • they are both of the same gender

The remainder are simply unwilling to submit to the dictates of the Rabbinate and its ramifications or don’t feel it’s necessary to legally formalize their relationship.

Does a couple living together have any legal status?

Couples who live together, sharing a joint bank account and the cost of food, clothing and shelter, have the legal status of “known in public.” This is similar to common law marriage in other countries. But unlike a couple with a ketuba, if a ‘known in public’ couple split up they do not have to go through the Rabbinic courts for a GET.  Even though they are not registered by the Interior Ministry as a couple and their personal status remains ‘single’, the children born to a ‘known in public’ couple have the same legal rights and status as children whose parents are married.

What happens to common assets if one partner dies?

In many western countries, if a married couple has no written will and one of them dies, the remaining spouse gets 100% of the assets. In Israel, half the assets go to the other spouse, and the children equally divide the remaining half.  A ‘known in public’ couple in Israel has those same rights. If there was no will and the remaining partner can prove they were “known in public” as a couple, he or she should receive half of the assets. But it doesn’t always go smoothly as illustrated in the following case:

In November, the Haifa District Court heard an appeal from a woman who lived together with her “known in public” partner for fifteen years. The couple held a joint bank account and jointly paid for their expenses from that account. After fifteen years of couple-hood, the man, who was many years older than the woman and who had children from previous relationships, passed away. The woman wanted her requisite share in his estate and went to court.

The ruling in the woman’s initial case did not acknowledge her to be the, “known in public” of the deceased. But in the appeal the District Court partially accepted her status as the “known in public.” In this ruling, it was determined that there was indeed ongoing cohabitation between the deceased and the woman, and they jointly shared a household budget. Moreover, it was noted that the fact the deceased did not sign a financial agreement is indicative of his intentions to share his assets with his common law spouse. The counter-arguments of the biological offspring of the deceased did not sway the court, and the woman was awarded half of his personal assets but not to his business assets. That was because the woman was not involved in the business and the deceased did not give the woman any chair positions within the business.

What happens to assets and children if a couple splits up?

The state is not involved in ending a ‘known in public’ relationship. If a couple separates and they don’t have a written agreement between them, they can settled their asset division and child custody issues by negotiating an agreement or they can turn to the courts to settle the conditions of the separation.

Good planning

In Israel, 45 % of couples who live together without a ketuba or marriage license have their relationship defined in a legal agreement. In my opinion, the best gift you can give to someone you love is a formal agreement you’ve crafted together, outlining the details of your commitment to each other. And writing a will is just as important. These steps will help avoid future disagreements and discord within the family.

I always recommend that a couple in a personal relationship (particularly those in second-time-around relationships), write up and sign a financial agreement as well, and have it certified as court approved. In this manner, their preferences will be decided by them in the event of death or separation and not be left to the discretion of a judge.

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