Can I Sue for Wrongful Death if My Partner and I Were Not Married?

Wrongful death laws are different in each state, but no state allows for wrongful death claims brought by a girlfriend or boyfriend. You must be a family member in the eyes of the law. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you had to be formally married to have spousal rights. And, even if you do not qualify as a spouse in your state, you may be able to receive compensation in an indirect way.

Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage is recognized in 16 states. However, some of those states only recognize common law marriages that were formed before a certain year and do not allow for new common law marriages. If you formed a common-law marriage in a state that recognizes it, and then moved to another state, you were still married. Common law marriage can be difficult to prove, so you’ll need the help of an experienced attorney. In many states the surviving spouse gets priority in wrongful death claims, so you may find yourself in a situation where other potential beneficiaries try to discredit your common-law marriage.

Domestic Partner

If you and your partner entered a civil union or domestic partnership, you may be able to sue for wrongful death, depending on your state’s laws.

Putative Spouse

A putative spouse is someone who believed they were married, but the marriage turned out to be void. Many states allow putative spouses to sue for wrongful death. A 2013 California Supreme Court case made it even easier for putative spouses to qualify in that state.

The Estate

Even if you do not qualify for spousal rights to sue for wrongful death, there is a way that you may be able to collect compensation indirectly. In many states, your partner’s estate can sue. If you are in the will, money won by the estate can increase your inheritance. Depending on the law in your state, you may even qualify as the person who can move the estate’s lawsuit forward.

To learn more about wrongful death and your legal rights, please talk to an experienced wrongful death attorney right away.

Avatar About Sandra Dalton

With a background as a paralegal, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights, Sandra Dalton launched her freelance writing career in 2000 with a weekly column on Freedom for Suite 101 and pro bono projects for individuals and organizations supporting causes close to her heart. One of her first projects was for the Police Compliant Center writing about police misconduct. Sandra’s legal writing quickly expanded to include personal injury, animal welfare, criminal defense, disability discrimination, family law and much more.