While many people choose to get married in a ceremony that is legally binding, that’s not the only way you can protect assets that you own with another person. In many cases, people who live together as a couple for a long period of time could be considered to be in a common law marriage. Like a traditional marriage, these people may have their assets protected in the case of a separation.

Common law marriages have been legal within the United States since 1977, and it still exists today in at least 10 states along with the capitol. Common law marriages aren’t automatically recognized everywhere, but there are some ways to find out if your relationship qualifies as one.

Firstly, you must live together to be in a common law marriage. Second, you both need to have the legal right to marry. That means you’ll both be over the age of 18 in most states, although this may vary. You may not be married to someone else and also be in a common law marriage.

You should also have appeared as if you were married. For instance, you may have referred to each other as husband and wife in public, or you may have joint banking accounts or credit cards shared between you. If you took the same last name, that can also prove your marriage is legitimate.

Common-law marriages are just as formal as a normal marriage. It doesn’t end when you split up, and if your common law spouse dies, you have the chance to prove your marriage and receive the death benefits you should be entitled to.

Source: FindLaw, “Common Law Marriage: The Basics,” accessed Feb. 04, 2016